WOODLAND — Martha Garcia came to court Monday carrying the purse she used while caring for her grandchildren, including 5-year-old Tatiana before she died at her own mother’s hands last September.
From the bag, Garcia pulled two tiny dresses — one a lacy yellow, the other pink-and-white gingham trimmed with bows — and laid them on a podium for Yolo Superior Court Judge Stephen Mock to see.
“This is all that I have from the child,” Garcia, speaking with assistance from a Spanish-language interpreter, said at the sentencing hearing for Aquelin Crystal Talamantes.
Talamantes was convicted in May of first-degree murder and child assault after drowning Tatiana in her sister’s South Davis home, then driving to a relative’s home in Sacramento with the girl’s body in the trunk of her car.
Garcia, whose son Oracio Garcia is the father of Tatiana and her younger brother Michael, described the girl as a friendly, well-behaved child, one who would readily greet others at the local market and call herself “cute” as she modeled in front of a mirror.
“I still weep for her when I’m alone. We loved those children so very, very much,” Garcia said during her victim impact statement.
“I did, too,” Talamantes interjected, the only statement she made during the hearing.
Garcia continued: “I don’t know what happiness is. I don’t know peace. I no longer have a happy family. This woman appeared in our lives to destroy our lives. … To me, she’s a cold-blooded killer. There’s a devil in that face.”
Weeping, Garcia implored Mock to give the 29-year-old Talamantes the maximum possible sentence, which by law he was required to impose: 25 years to life in state prison, with the possibility of parole.
Afterward, Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens praised the law-enforcement officers who investigated the case, as well as Garcia for speaking about her slain granddaughter in court.
“The people have always felt that Tatiana did not have a voice in this trial, and we appreciate the comments of Martha Garcia for giving an identity to the victim of this terrible crime,” he said.
Talamantes’ attorney, Supervising Deputy Public Defender Sally Fredericksen, declined to comment Monday. She had unsuccessfully sought an insanity defense in the case, which a six-man, six-woman jury rejected following the monthlong trial that included both guilt and sanity phases.
Monday’s court proceeding also served as an arraignment hearing for Talamantes in a separate case in which she faced two felony counts of battery on a correctional officer. The charges stemmed from a Feb. 14 scuffle at the Yolo County Jail during which Talamantes allegedly hit and scratched one of the officers and spit on the other.
Prior to the sentencing in the murder case, Couzens had offered a plea deal that reduced the felony counts to misdemeanors, with the resulting sentence to be served concurrently to the life term. Fredericksen rejected the offer, however, and Mock set the case for trial in early September.
But as Talamantes was being escorted from the courthouse, both attorneys met privately, and an agreement was made that the battery case would be dismissed in the interest of justice.
“This is not for lack of evidence,” Couzens noted during a second hearing held after Talamantes was returned to Mock’s courtroom. According to the prosecutor, the incident was caught at least partially on jail security video, and Talamantes admitted to striking one officer during a subsequent phone conversation.
“It is only in light of the court’s sentence of 25 to life (in the murder case) that the people are willing to dismiss this case,” Couzens added.
With that, Mock ordered Yolo County sheriff’s officials to transport Talamantes to the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which is expected to take place later this week.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene