Last Friday the local press corps — Tiffany Revelle, Glenda Anderson, and your own trusty correspondent — descended on the Courthouse en masse to see what would happen with “The Talmage Tot Torturers,” as they’ve come to be known. The alleged fiends themselves, Dunakin and Medina, were not present. The Talmage Road couple is accused of torturing and sexually abusing their own children.
Maybe we should pause early here to wonder what has happened in this country that this kind of evil has become so common. Within the last two weeks in this county alone, a county of only 90,000 people, four more cases of child sexual exploitation were alleged, one of them apparently associated with Dunakin and Medina.
The jail was unable to get Dunakin and Medina transported in a timely manner, so it was decided that another matter, a minor one, would proceed while the court, and us media ghouls, waited for the main show.
The interim was partially filled with the case of Jairo Espinoza, an Anderson Valley carpenter and contractor. I should say out front that Mr. Espinoza is well known to me and my colleagues at the paper. We are all quite fond of Mr. Espinoza and remember a time not long ago when Mr. and Mrs. Espinoza, still a couple, now estranged, worked harmoniously on a construction project involving all of us. But that was then and now is now. Here they were in a world of woe at their own little war in a Ukiah courtroom.
The case had spilled over from family court. Mr. E had either misunderstood or willfully defied a court order.
Then it all suddenly went from routine to weird, at least as your reporter was concerned.
“He’s a bully,” Deputy DA Beth Norman said to me in an unkind characterization of Mr. E. “And since you know him so well, you could be called to testify, although I’m not going to slap you with a subpoena right now.”
The prosecutor's assessment of Mr. E. does not compute with the guy we know, and Ms. Norman was sounding kinda bullying her own prosecutor's self.
“Are you telling me I can’t write about this case?”
“No, not at all.”
And on we went, unslapped.
The witness called against Mr. Espinoza was his ex, Ana Maria Segura, mother of the former couple’s two children. Deputy DA Norman established that there was a custody agreement in place that said Mr. Espinoza was not to come to Ms. Segura’s apartment in Ukiah to pick up the kids. They were to exchange the little ones at the neutral site of McDonalds. That was the custodial hand-off deal that had allegedly been violated.
“Was he ever to come to your house?”
Ms. Segura was speaking through the dapper court-certified Spanish language interpreter, Timothy Baird,
“Did you see him on January 3rd at approximately 7 pm?”
“Outside my house, in Ukiah.”
“Were you surprised?”
“It was never said that he would come to my house.”
“Did you have the children?”
“Were you frightened?”
“What did you do?”
“I got out of my car and asked what had happened."
“What did he say?”
“He said he was waiting for me to tell him what had happened, and that he was going to take the children.”
“What did you say to that?”
“I told him that it wasn’t his day, and that if he took them I was going to call the police.”
“What did he do?”
“He said call them! He acted like we had never talked and that he had them for that weekend.”
“So you had talked to him and changed the arrangement?”
“Yes. So now he said goodbye to the children and blessed them, and as I was climbing the stairs to my apartment he said, Give me the note. I said what note? He said, I want the note, a note he’d left on my door. I went up the steps and he said, The note, give it to me. I felt a push and he took the note, before I could read more than a few lines. Then, as he was going down the stairs, he asked when would he see the children and I told him to talk to his lawyer.”
“Tell me about this note,” Norman said.
“It was on my door so I thought it was mine.”
“He pushed on you, correct?”
“Yes. I was trying to read the note and felt a push, forcing me backwards against the door.”
“Were you pregnant?”
“Are you still?”
“Were you scared?”
“Yes, I was trembling.”
“I knew I couldn’t defend myself against him.”
“Had he ever pushed you before?”
Espinoza’s lawyer, Justin Petersen objected. “This has all been hashed over in civil court, your honor, and it’s been established that there were no prior incidents.”
“Objection sustained,” Judge Ann Moorman ruled. “Ask your next question.”
“Did you see the note after that?”
“No further questions at this time.”
There was an interruption. Another defendant was due for sentencing and one of the victims had come from Covelo to read a statement to the court.
The victim was Jada England, still shaken by a frightening episode only three months old.
“On December 22nd at 6:30 in the morning as I was opening the store when I was robbed at gunpoint by Daniel Bowes…”
Ms. England began to cry. Judge Moorman told her to take a deep breath. After a moment she resumed.
“I was getting ready for my 18th birthday, which was the next day, and he made my birthday and the day before, the worst days of my life. I had only lived in Covelo a month. For the first two months after the robbery I had nightmares every night of the gun pointing at me and I still fall asleep crying… I have flashbacks if I even see someone dressed like him. I had moved out of my mother’s house at 17 and was living on my own in Covelo where I have lots of friends and relatives, but Daniel Bowes took all of that away from me. Some days are hard, but I get through them. I would like him to go to prison for as long as possible because I wanted to spend my whole life in Covelo, but now I plan to move because I can’t stand seeing him come in the store… I think of that gun pointed at me… Thank you.”
Further proceedings in the Bowes sentencing were set for next Tuesday.
The Espinoza matter resumed.
Petersen for the defense began to question Ms. Segura.
“So, Ms. Segura, it sounds like you shared two children with Jairo?”
Petersen had stood and had placed an avuncular hand on his client’s shoulder.
“And you had a court order concerning visitation?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“And Jairo was entitled to pick the children up on that day, correct?”
“Yes, but he had wanted the children on the first weekend, so we had agreed to change that arrangement.”
“Did you have that agreement in writing?”
“When was the change made?”
“About a week before the Christmas break from school.”
“By chance, was the change made in a series of text messages?”
“So you have no documentation of this change?”
“No, because I trusted in his word that if he took them on the first weekend, I would get them on the last weekend.”
“What, exactly, was the change you made to the court order?”
“Well, it had to do with the 15 days of vacation, and the children were supposed to be with me, so I asked him, Do you want to pick them up on the first Friday and then leave them with me on the last weekend? He was due seven days and the other seven were for me; so his weekend became mine.”
“But according to the court order that was his day.”
“Yes, but we’d changed it, and that’s the reason I didn’t go to McDonald’s that day.”
“Let me back up. You had a court order, and according to the order it was Jairo’s day, but you’d switched the days in the agreement about a week before the Christmas break, and according to the change in the agreement he would have the children for seven days and you would have them for seven, and so the day in question was actually Jairo’s day to have the children?”—
“Excuse me, counselor,” translator Baird interrupted. “If you could break this up into less than 50-word chunks I could keep up.” The visitation math and logistics seemed to be confusing everyone.
Petersen seemed momentarily at a loss. These lengthy re-statings of the testimony were his forte, the main move of defense attorneys everywhere, the means by which he and they confound, confuse and, eventually refute or undermine the witness’s testimony. Petersen's very good at it. It only took him a moment to come up with an alternate plan.
“So you had switched the days,” he eventually asked.
“Yes, I asked if it would be easier for him that way.”
“So things would work out in accordance with the vacation time?”
“Yes. So I wasn’t expecting to see him there.”
“Okay, so aside from the changes you made at this time, were there other changes?”
“One time we tried to do that but it didn’t work out because he changes his mind from one moment to the next. My car is old, and it was getting dark earlier, so I told him to let me pick them up earlier in case I have trouble with the car, and it didn’t work out.”
“On the day of the incident in question, did you have a cellphone?”
“And did you receive text messages from Jairo?”
“Yes, but I wasn’t aware of them until I got to my house.”
“Why is that?”
“I was at the doctor’s. It was an ultra-sound appointment, so I had turned the volume down on my cell phone.”
“If I may show you defense Exhibit E… Are those the text messages?”
“I had just seen one of these. When he told me he’d been calling, I went and checked my cellphone.”
“You said you were frightened?”
“Because I know him.”
“You asked when you saw him what had happened and he said I’m asking you what happened?”
“Yes, but in an aggressive tone, like he was angry.”
“Because it was his turn to have the children?”
“But I thought we’d reached this agreement.”
“But he’d been calling and texting you for hours.”
“At that time I did not know that.”
“So you and Jairo had a different idea of whose turn it was?”
“He tries to manipulate me like that.”
“But isn’t it true that he went to his vehicle to get his calendar to show you it was his weekend?”
“Objection,” Norman said.
“She can answer,” Judge Moorman ruled.
“Yes, he went to get his calendar, but we’d spoken about that and changed it.”
“At some point you told Jairo he could not take the children.”
“Those were not my words. I said if you take them, I’ll call the police.”
“Did Jairo say I’m not going to argue with you?”
“Yes. I said, That’s fine and started up the stairs.”
“Did Jairo follow?”
“I heard his voice behind me saying give me the note.”
“Was this the first you heard of the note?”
“Yes. I said, What note?”
“Did he explain why he came to your house and left a note?”
“Yes. Then he said give me the note.”
“I’m showing you defense Exhibit A. Is that the note?”
“No, the first part is the same, but it wasn’t just this short note. And he was yelling at me to give it to him.”
At this point the alleged Talmage Tot Torturers were brought in, but their preliminary hearing was again suspended. Nothing happened because, it seems, evidence was still being gathered by investigators. The next court date for the County's most depressing pending case was set for May 13th.
Mr. Petersen resumed his cross examination of the former Mrs. Espinoza.
“The note — the part you saw, at least — was about trying to get a hold of you, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, the top part, but I couldn’t finish reading it because he was yelling at me to give it to him.”
“Did he indicate to you why he wanted the note?”
“I don’t know why he wanted it, but it was on my door and one would suppose it belonged to me.”
“That’s not for us to decide," Petersen said, "but in the face of his demands and your supposed fearfulness, you didn’t give him the note, did you?”
“No, he took it by force.”
The hearing recessed for lunch with a plan to resume at 2:30, but by 3:00 the court was still handling other matters and the bus to Boonville was pulling out. Justin Petersen said he had only about 10 or 15 minutes more to finish his cross examination of the former Mrs. Espinoza, but that seemed a very conservative estimate for a lawyer as thorough as he is. It wasn’t the crime of the century, was it? It was an every day matter in an imploding society. The other two reporters had long before put away their notebooks. They'd been there for the Big Grisly, the alleged Talmage monstrousness, not a commonplace domestic split.
The former Mrs. Espinoza was holding her own, but Petersen was wearing her down. Modern courtrooms are hard places, and chivalry is for romantics.