WOODLAND — Aquelin Talamantes’ mental decline was months in the making, culminating in a state of “acute paranoid psychosis” the day she allegedly drowned her 5-year-old daughter in a bathtub, according to the Davis psychiatrist who evaluated the defendant at the Yolo County Jail.
“I believe she was acutely psychotic at the time,” Dr. Captane Thomson said Thursday in Yolo Superior Court, where Talamantes, 29, is standing trial on murder and child-assault charges. He noted that statements from police officers, relatives and other witnesses “all support that she did not seem to be thinking at all clearly. She was in a state of acute distress.”
Thomson testified over a two-day period this week as the defense launched its side of the case, which maintains Talamantes’ traumatic childhood rendered her so mentally impaired at the time of Tatiana Garcia’s death on Sept. 26, 2013, that she should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prosecutors contend Talamantes was perfectly sane, feigning symptoms of mental illness before the crime to avoid responsibilities such as holding down a regular job, and now to avoid prison time for drowning her daughter — the oldest of two children she resented for derailing her modeling and songwriting career aspirations.
Interviewed twice in late November and early December 2013 — about two months after she transported her daughter’s lifeless body in the trunk of her car from Davis to a relative’s Sacramento apartment — Talamantes told Thomson voices told her to drown the girl and that “she thought the police were going to cut off her head.”
“She was believing things that were not true … and for some reason believed her daughter was going to be taken off and killed by the police,” who that morning had conducted a welfare check at the Glide Drive home where Talamantes was staying with her sister Elisa Torres. “She wondered how they knew where she was.”
Talamantes received other diagnoses in the weeks before her arrest — including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder — but never the more severe bipolar disorder or paranoid schizophrenia conditions that she claimed to have, according to court testimony this week.
Defense witnesses called by Deputy Public Defender Sally Fredericksen have established a roughly nine-month timeline for Talamantes’ alleged mental deterioration, starting in January 2013 when she walked into an Oak Park clinic complaining of anxiety, nasal congestion and pain from a work-related injury.
“She was feeling stressed, tense, nervous, with a panicked feeling,” recalled physician assistant Angelica Perez-Romo, who prescribed Talamantes medications to treat her various ailments.
By April, Talamantes had been admitted to the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center on a psychiatric hold, where she received the PTSD and personality-disorder diagnoses along with psychosis and alcohol abuse.
Dr. Sarah Reed, the resident psychiatrist on duty when Talamantes arrived seeking treatment, said the young woman reported having both auditory and visual hallucinations, “saying she saw spirit people,” for which Reed prescribed the antipsychotic drug Risperidone among other medications.
Under cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens, Reed confirmed Talamantes confirmed having just a single visual hallucination about two months before the hospital visit, during a setting in which she had been “drinking heavily.” She also reported regular marijuana use.
Drug and alcohol abuse also came up during Talamantes’ interviews with Thomson, although the defendant initially failed to disclose her use of methamphetamine. She also claimed to have run out of her antipsychotic medication and lacked the funds to replenish it, even though a police search of her sister’s house revealed a prescription bottle with six of the tablets left inside.
“I guess I saw it as an oversight,” Thomson said of Talamantes’ omissions. Reports that she had sought out pamphlets about symptoms of bipolar disorder at the jail he viewed as an effort to educate herself about her condition.
Thomson said he reviewed some 8,500 pages of documents in preparation for his testimony, including police reports, medical records and statements from witnesses who encountered Talamantes at the Glide Drive home around the time of her daughter’s death.
But when it was Couzens’ turn to question him, Thomson acknowledged he had read only a portion of those reports at the time he completed his evaluation of Talamantes and relied largely upon the statements she made to others and to him during the jailhouse interviews.
During one point of his cross-examination in which Couzens focused on Thomson’s diagnosis of Talamantes and the symptoms that led to it, Thomson said for a mother to kill her own child “and be in her right mind just seems inconsistent with our general sense of maternal nature.”
“I can’t believe that a normal person would do such a thing,” Thomson said, though he later agreed that a person does not have to be mentally ill to commit a heinous crime. He also refuted Couzens’ suggestion that he went into his interviews with Talamantes with a preconceived notion that she was somehow impaired.
“She decompensated … to the point that she did something that I’m certain she will always regret,” Thomson said.
Talamantes’ relatives have backed her claims of mental illness, with two of her sisters testifying she had been officially diagnosed with both bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, even though no documents have been produced to back up those claims.
On Thursday, Talamantes’ sister Elisa Torres took her message to the front steps of the Yolo County Courthouse, wearing signs that said “Mental illness is real” and “How many red flags did you need?” a reference to Davis police officers she said failed to place her sister on a psychiatric hold on the morning of Tatiana’s death despite her odd behavior.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene