WOODLAND — A Yolo County jury rejected the notion that Aquelin Talamantes was legally insane when she drowned her 5-year-old daughter in the bathtub of a South Davis home last fall, clearing the way for her to be sentenced to state prison for the crime.
The verdict was read in Yolo Superior Court Judge Stephen Mock’s courtroom at 10:20 a.m. today, just over an hour after the jury gathered at the courthouse to resume its deliberations in the case’s sanity phase.
“We’re very glad that the jury’s verdict brings justice to Tatiana Garcia,” Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens, who prosecuted the monthlong trial, said an interview. “We have always maintained there is one victim in this case, and that is Tatiana.”
Defense attorney Sally Fredericksen could not immediately be reached for comment. Sentencing is set for July 7, with Talamantes facing a term of 25 years to life for the jury’s previous finding that she committed first-degree murder and child assault.
Jurors received the case shortly before 4 p.m. Monday following a second round of closing arguments by attorneys, with the defense having the burden of proving Talamantes suffered from mental disease or defect on Sept. 26, 2013, and that her condition rendered her incapable of knowing that killing young Tatiana Garcia was morally or legally wrong.
Fredericksen, said her client underwent a “psychotic break” that morning, believing that police in the neighborhood were going to cut off her daughter’s head and that, “in her twisted mind,” she was protecting Tatiana by drowning her.
“Only later does she realize, oh my God, what have I done?” Fredericksen told the jury. “I think you should see she was legally insane at the time of this offense.”
Couzens contends Talamantes was sane, noting that her methodical concealment of Tatiana’s body following her death — wrapping it in a blanket and trash bag, placing it in the trunk of her car and lying to relatives about the girl’s whereabouts — “indicate that she knew what she doing was wrong.”
Monday’s closing arguments followed testimony by Dr. Joan Gerbasi, a psychiatrist retained by the prosecution, who said Talamantes demonstrated symptoms of borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, but in her opinion fell short of the “acute paranoid psychosis” diagnosis reached by defense-retained psychiatrist Dr. Captane Thomson.
Gerbasi, who participated in the evaluation of Andrea Yates — the Texas mother found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 2001 drowning deaths of her five young children — pointed out multiple inconsistencies between Talamantes’ reported symptoms and those typically seen among mentally ill patients.
While people suffering from conditions such as schizophrenia tend to deny there is anything wrong with them and therefore resist treatment, “she continually thrust her illness forward” during two interviews this spring at the Yolo County Jail, Gerbasi recalled. “She kept telling me, ‘I’m sick — I belong in a hospital.’ ”
Also, “she endorsed a tremendous amount of symptoms that are not consistent with any known psychiatric disorder,” such as walls changing colors and knives protruding from the floor, Gerbasi testified.
In the Texas case, Yates consistently expressed her fear that her children “weren’t righteous” and doomed to go to hell, but felt she could save them by killing them young, Gerbasi said. By contrast, Talamantes’ claim that she was protecting her daughter from police by drowning her wasn’t mentioned for more than two months until her interviews with Thomson — another sign of possible embellishment, Gerbasi said.
“When you’re faced with having done an act like this and spending a long time in prison, I think it’s natural for her to make the strongest case for herself, because she’s got a bad future in front of her,” Gerbasi testified. By presenting symptoms that could bring hospitalization instead of prison, “she’s trying to make it a little bit better.”
But Gerbasi said it’s more likely that Talamantes’ actions were the result of an extremely stressful situation — an overwhelmed single mother with no job or income prospects facing eviction from her sister’s South Davis home, among other troubles.
“She was in an increasingly desperate state, which is a setup for her losing it with her child,” Gerbasi said.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene