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Prosecutor questions psychiatrist in trial of woman who drowned daughter

05/22/2014 1:44 PM

05/22/2014 1:58 PM

At one point, Aquelin Talamantes told a psychiatrist that she drowned her little girl because “voices” told her to do it. In the same interview, she told him she did it out of fear that the police were going to cut off the girl’s head.

She neglected to tell him her drug history included methamphetamine use, and lied about being out of her anti-psychotic medications at the time of the drowning, when she had six pills left, the man prosecuting her argued. And she repeatedly told people she had been diagnosed with severe mental conditions that never actually appeared in her medical records.

These are just a few points Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens made as he spent much of Thursday attempting to undermine Captane Thomson’s diagnosis of Talamantes, 29, who is on trial for murder in connection with 5-year-old Tatiana Garcia’s Sept. 26 death. Thomson has said he believes the woman suffered from “acute paranoid psychosis” when she committed the act, a critical basis for Talamantes’ plea that she is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Thomson interviewed Talamantes twice after her arrest, and testified that he based his diagnosis largely on his interviews with her or statements she made to other people, which were documented in police reports and medical histories. But why believe what she says, Couzens asked.

“Given the psychosis you have diagnosed her with depends on believing what she ... says happened to her, doesn’t it seem like she’s throwing psychotic cliches against the wall to see what sticks?” Couzens asked the doctor.

After a pause, Thomson started to answer, “There’s no question she ...”

“I would think your answer would just be no,” Couzens interrupted.

“Clever, she is,” Thomson said, adding later: “There’s some inconsistencies there, no question.”

In almost two weeks of trial, Couzens has argued that Talamantes is a drug-abusing, selfish woman who resented her kids for ruining her career aspirations. He has argued that she has manipulated and lied to make people believe she is mentally ill when she knew exactly what she was doing when she held her daughter under the bath water.

Deputy Public Defender Sally Fredericksen counters that Talamantes had a troubled childhood riddled with abuse and molestation. Fredericksen said Talamantes also was devastated by the murder of her mother – an alcoholic who also was mentally ill, according to testimony – when Talamantes was 11 years old. The loss of her job and a violent relationship with the father of her children has exacerbated her condition, Fredericksen has argued.

Talamantes was evaluated by several health professionals in the months leading up to the drowning. Her diagnoses included psychosis, depression, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder – but never paranoid schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, as she relayed to several people, according to court testimony.

In cross-examining Thomson – who returned to the stand at Fredericksen’s request this week after first being called by Couzens last week – Couzens focused not just on the conflict between Talamantes’ two stated reasons for drowning her daughter, but also on the lack of evidence supporting the delusion about the police.

Talamantes spoke to Davis police officers several times the day of her daughter’s death. The first conversation followed a minor traffic stop involving Talamantes’ oldest sister, Elisa Torres, outside her home, where Talamantes and her children were temporarily staying.

After getting a warning and returning to the home, Torres sent her younger sister outside to talk to Officer Kimberly Walker about her expired registration in hopes the officer would see her bizarre behavior, Torres testified this week. Other court testimony revealed that in a second conversation with Walker, Talamantes asked the officer if she wanted to take Tatiana. Walker asked if she should, and Talamantes said no, and went back inside.

Thomson testified that Talamantes told him she pulled away from the officer out of fear the police would decapitate her daughter. Couzens questioned why, if Talamantes was having this delusion and believed it as mentally ill people often do, she wouldn’t share this “grave, heinous threat” with Torres. He also wondered why she would then have a calm interaction with police officers after Walker, concerned about Talamantes’ strange behavior, called for backup and then went inside for a welfare check.

Thomson agreed it was “odd.”

Under questioning from the prosecutor, he also acknowledged testimony by a jail psychiatrist who believes Talamantes had been embellishing some of her symptoms in anticipation of her trial. Thomson agreed exaggeration can occur in such instances, and could be happening in this case.

“No question she is trying to make clear to people she’s a very distraught lady and she’d much rather be in a hospital than a prison,” he said.

Couzens also spent a great deal of time questioning whether Thomson came into the case with a bias about women who kill their children, a charge the doctor denied.

He testified that Talamantes acted in a manner that day “absolutely against all normal maternal instincts,” supporting his theory of psychosis.

That might be true, Couzens argued, but not necessarily the basis for mental illness. He argued that people often commit crimes, even the worst kinds, without suffering from any sort of psychosis. He asked Thomson whether he thought it was possible for a parent to kill a child for some other reason.

“I guess it could happen,” he said. “But to me, that is – for a mother to take the life of her own child and be in her right mind seems inconsistent with our general sense of human nature.”

Fredericksen has one more witness to call before resting her case. The attorneys are expected to make closing arguments next week.

Related stories:
•  Sister testifies in sibling's murder trial in Yolo County
•  Witnesses detail Aquelin Talamantes' mental health diagnoses leading up to drowning of daughter
•  CPS worker: Hospital flagged Davis mom now accused of murder
•  Davis psychiatrist says Talamantes reported hearing voices

Sacto 911 Staff

Bill Lindelof
blindelof@sacbee.com
@Lindelofnews

Cathy Locke
clocke@sacbee.com

Andy Furillo
Superior Court
afurillo@sacbee.com
@andyfurillo

Denny Walsh
Federal Court
dwalsh@sacbee.com

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