Murder trial defendant describes domestic abuse

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 17, 2013 

— Two expert witnesses testified Monday that domestic violence and methamphetamine use — two main themes of the homicide defense of Maria Teresa Ceja Robles — could affect a person's state of mind.

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.

Ceja Robles has testified that 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, first called on Belinda Rolicheck, executive director of Haven Women's Center in Stanislaus County, to speak about domestic violence.

Though Rolicheck could not comment on the specifics of the Ceja Robles case, she provided generic testimony about the cycle of domestic violence and types of abuse.

Tenenbaum asked if some of the behaviors detailed by Ceja Robles during testimony — for example, Velarde controlling who visited the couple's home — could be examples of domestic violence.

Rolicheck, who has worked with victims of violence for more than 10 years, said those behaviors are examples of abuse.

During the prosecution's questioning, Deputy District Attorney Monika Saini pointed out the possibility of a woman lying about abuse and making false allegations.

Saini also told jurors that Ceja Robles had control of the couple's car and apartment because Velarde was an undocumented entrant.

Velarde's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Sean Howard, pointed out that men can be abused and controlled by women.

Tenenbaum's second witness, John Mendelson, a professor at University of California at San Francisco and methamphetamine expert, spoke about the drug's effects on a person's judgment.

"They no longer make decisions the same way," Mendelson said. "Drugs impair our ability to show judgment … meth decreases the ability to say no when you should."

Mendelson said methamphetamine increases anxiety and impulsive actions.

Ceja Robles testified to using the drug every day for a year, but said she could still sleep and take her children to school. Mendelson said it's not uncommon for a chronic user to keep a job while meeting daily obligations and appointments.

Despite the common myth, the drug doesn't always cause weight loss, Mendelson added. This would explain Ceja Robles' 19-pound weight gain over three months, according to medical records presented by the prosecution.

Howard asked Mendelson if a person could become addicted to methamphetamine after one use, which Ceja Robles claimed happened after Velarde put the drug in her drink. Mendelson said that is not the case.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II questioned Mendelson's research in relation to the case, pointing out that it does not focus on methamphetamine and its relationship to violent crimes.

Tenenbaum will call his final witness, a psychologist from Oakland, to testify Tuesday, and then Ceja Robles is expected to continue her testimony.

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

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