Psychologist claims co-defendant's troubled past mixed with drugs caused her downfall

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 16, 2013 

The testimony of Maria Teresa Ceja Robles, the Planada woman accused of murder and kidnapping, entered its eighth day Tuesday — one of the longest stretches for any witness.

Ceja Robles and co-defendant Jose Augustine Velarde are accused of killing Ana Lila Diaz DeCeja on Dec. 2, 2010, in a plot to steal her infant son.

During testimony, Ceja Robles said Velarde, her boyfriend in 2010, got her hooked on methamphetamine and that she was unaware he would kill DeCeja. She also testified to enduring physical and sexual abuse by Velarde.

Her attorney, Jeffrey Tenenbaum, called his final witness to the stand Tuesday — Ricardo Carrillo, a licensed psychologist from Oakland who specializes in trauma.

Carrillo evaluated Ceja Robles in February, running several diagnostic tests including a memory test to detect lies, and said he believes she suffers from borderline personality disorder.

He also reviewed Ceja Robles' medical records and interviewed her about her family history.

Carrillo said Ceja Robles' rocky childhood, which included molestation, witnessing domestic violence and caring for siblings at a young age, played a role in her emotional state. He said Ceja Robles' past has led to her "significantly impaired" judgment.

Meth plays a big role

The condition was only made worse when she began using methamphetamine, Carrillo added.

"She was able to tolerate levels of violence that I've seen in few cases," Carrillo said. "She already has problems, and now the meth use comes into play, and she no longer has control of herself."

"She's easily swayed, can't think for herself and she'll do whatever it takes to survive," Carrillo added. "I don't think I've ever evaluated a person with as much trauma."

Carrillo told jurors that Ceja Robles told him, "I feel like I'm garbage." He said the tests confirm low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness.

However, Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II questioned whether Ceja Robles was truthful in recounting her family history to Carrillo. He pointed out several discrepancies between her testimony and what she told the psychologist.

For example, she told Carrillo that her second husband was an abusive drug user, but testified that he was a "good man" and their fights were mutual.

She told the jury that Velarde hit her on the back with a belt, but told the psychologist it was on her legs.

Ceja Robles allegedly told Carrillo she is hearing voices and seeing shadows, but didn't testify to those things. She also didn't tell him about claims that Velarde subjected her to bestiality.

Morse asked the psychologist whether he spoke to Ceja Robles' mother or siblings — who live in Merced County — to confirm if she's telling the truth about her childhood.

Carrillo said he had not spoken to her family about Ceja Robles' claims. "That's not my job as a psychologist," he said.

Morse responded, "Wouldn't you say your evaluation procedure is flawed if you did not take advantage of speaking to her family?" he asked.

"You'd rather rely on unproven diagnostic tools than talking to family members that tell you what Maria is saying is not true?" Morse said.

Velarde's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Sean Howard, is expected to question Carrillo today before calling his first witness to the stand.

Closing arguments in the case could be heard by the end of the week.

Velarde and Ceja Robles face charges of murder, kidnapping, child abuse and making a false report to police. If convicted, they face life in prison.

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