WOODLAND — As her relatives wept in the courtroom audience, a Davis woman pleaded not guilty Monday to murder and assault charges stemming from last week’s death of her 5-year-old daughter.
Aquelin Crystal Talamantes, 29, spoke softly as she confirmed her name to Yolo Superior Court Commissioner Janene Beronio and said she could not afford to hire her own attorney. Beronio appointed a public defender, who entered the not-guilty plea on Talamantes’ behalf.
Beronio set an Oct. 15 preliminary hearing date in the case and ordered that Talamantes continue to be held without bail at the Yolo County Jail.
“We still love you,” one tearful relative said to Talamantes as family members filed out of the courtroom. After speaking at length with a victim services advocate, they left the courthouse without comment, their arms wrapped around one another.
The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office filed a two-count complaint Monday charging Talamantes with felony murder and assault on a child with force likely to produce great bodily injury resulting in death. Police said Talamantes’ daughter, Tatianna Garcia, was found in the trunk of her mother’s car shortly after 2:30 p.m. last Thursday after Talamantes had driven from her South Davis home to a relative’s Sacramento apartment.
Officers and bystanders attempted lifesaving efforts, but the girl was pronounced dead at an area hospital. Davis police took over the investigation after determining the fatal assault likely occurred at the Glide Drive home where Talamantes and her two children had been staying with Talamantes’ sister for the past few weeks.
Talamantes’ other child, a 4-year-old boy, was unharmed.
Specific details surrounding the circumstances of Tatianna’s death remain a mystery, however. Sacramento County coroner’s officials, who performed the child’s autopsy Friday, are awaiting the results of further testing before ruling on the cause and time of death.
However, a man who was walking door-to-door on Glide Drive on Thursday afternoon believes he interacted with Talamantes around the time of her daughter’s demise.
Ben Taber, who works for a third-party vendor for PG&E, said he was knocking on doors to offer residents discounts on their natural gas bills when he encountered Talamantes at about noontime.
“I went through my spiel, and she seemed really weird,” Taber recalled in an interview Monday. He said Talamantes appeared disoriented as he spoke, repeatedly telling him, “I don’t understand what this is about. I don’t understand why you’re here.”
“It was almost like she was in another world,” Taber said. “She just had a blank look on her face the whole time I was there.”
A young boy stood at the door with the woman, but “I never saw another child,” Taber said. The boy had tousled hair as if he had just emerged from a nap, but “he didn’t seem distraught. He didn’t seem abused.”
Police say it was not the first time Talamantes was observed acting strangely that day.
Earlier, at about 9:30 a.m., a Davis police officer performed a welfare check at the Glide Drive duplex after Talamantes approached her during an unrelated traffic stop and began “acting erratically.” Davis police Lt. Paul Doroshov said last week that two officers looked through the home and saw two children, presumably Tatianna and her brother, laughing and playing on a couch.
The officers spoke with both Talamantes and a second adult and, finding no signs of neglect or abuse in the home, cleared the scene with no further action, Doroshov said.
A short time after his visit, Taber walked through the area again and noticed several police officers who “looked like they were looking for somebody, because they were going around the houses,” he recalled.
Doroshov confirmed Monday that his department received a call at about 1 p.m. from Talamantes’ sister, who also resides in the Glide Drive home, expressing concern about the children’s whereabouts.
About two hours later, when Taber passed by the house a third time after working an adjacent neighborhood, the home was surrounded by crime-scene tape. A car that had been parked in the driveway during Taber’s initial visit was gone.
Taber said he gave a statement to police at the scene, but it wasn’t until he watched the news that night that he grasped “the severity of the situation.”
“It was just eerie to me. Based on the timeline that I’ve seen, I had spoken to this lady either right before or right after she had (allegedly) killed her child,” said Taber, himself the father of an 8-year-old girl. He said he’s been saying “what if” to himself ever since.
“What if I had gotten there 30 minutes earlier? Or 30 minutes later?” Taber said. “Could I have altered the situation at all?”
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene