Testimony ends in Planada kidnapping-murder trial

Deputy: Victim's car not on gas station tape

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 16, 2013 

— Attorneys on both sides finished presenting their evidence Wednesday in the homicide trial of a Planada couple accused of killing a woman and kidnapping her 2-month-old baby.

Prosecutors believe Maria Teresa Ceja Robles and Jose Augustine Velarde killed Ana Lila Diaz De-Ceja on Dec. 2, 2010, in a plot to steal her infant son.

DeCeja's body, which was burned beyond recognition, was found in an orchard near Snelling. Her baby was found alive on the doorstep of a Le Grand home.

Deputy Public Defender Sean Howard, who represents Velarde, called Merced County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Macias to the stand Wednesday.

During the trial, Ceja Robles testified Velarde drove DeCeja's car to a gas station in Snelling the day of the murder. He allegedly bought gas to burn DeCeja's body.

The deputy testified that he reviewed the gas station's surveillance tapes and didn't see the victim's car enter the gas station.

After further questioning, the deputy said that not all the cameras at the gas station were operational.

Earlier during the trial, Ceja Robles testified that Velarde, her boyfriend in 2010, got her hooked on methamphetamine and that she was unaware he would kill De-Ceja.

The prosecution called sheriff's deputy Ray Framstad, who is a methamphetamine expert. Framstad, who said he's worked with more than 1,000 methamphetamine users, spoke about the physical changes that users experience — including weight loss and sores on their face.

Ceja Robles never experienced those things, said Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II.

She actually gained 19 pounds over a period of three months, according to medical records presented by the prosecution.

The couple are being tried together, but two juries are hearing the case because of statements the defendants made implicating one another. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty to the murder charges.

Closing arguments for the Ceja Robles case are scheduled to happen today. Closing arguments in Velarde's portion of the trial will be heard Friday, Morse said.

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

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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