Cal City Toddlers Trial: CA v. Jacqueline and Trezell West

Posted at 4:47 PM, May 19, 2023 and last updated 11:26 AM, August 2, 2023


BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (Court TV) — The adoptive parents of two toddler brothers reported missing back in 2020 face sentencing on Thursday, July 13 for second-degree murder and other crimes related to the deaths of Orrin and Orson West.

Back in May, Trezell and Jacqueline West were found guilty of five of the seven counts they were facing.

The jury was hung on two counts after days of deliberation. After being asked by the judge the jury’s foreperson said they would not be able to come to a verdict on the final two counts.

The boys’ bodies have never been found; but California prosecutors had plenty of direct and circumstantial evidence tying the couple to the mysterious murders.

The brothers, ages 3 and 4, were reported missing from their California City home on December 21, 2020 by the Wests. The couple also had two biological children and two other adopted children, all below the age of 10, under their roof at the time.

Two days after reporting the boys missing, the Wests spoke to reporters and neighbors outside their home. They said it was “understandable” that people suspected them of foul play, but insisted they wanted nothing more than to find the boys. Scrutiny quickly fell on the Wests, whom police described as cooperative throughout the investigation.

This combination photo shows missing children Orson West (L) and Orrin West (R), who disappeared Dec. 21, 2020. (NamUS)

Time passed, tips poured in, search parties were formed. Billboards and news outlets kept Orrin and Orson’s story circulating, but their fate remained a mystery until the Wests were taken into custody on March 1, 2022.

District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer announced the following day that the couple had been indicted by a grand jury. Evidence from an exhaustive investigation pinpointed Orrin and Orson having died in September 2020 — three months before they were reported missing.

Charges against the Wests include second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and willful cruelty to a child, among other counts.

WATCH: Prosecutions Opening Statements in CA v. West & West (FULL VIDEO)

Perhaps the biggest question is where exactly investigators believe the children were killed, California City or Bakersfield, where the Wests lived until September 2020, but investigators have not yet revealed which city they think the boys were killed in. According to law enforcement, the boys died as a result of abuse, but the case is based on circumstantial evidence.

The Wests pleaded not guilty to the seven counts against them.

In the first and only defense press conference, Trezell West’s lawyer, Timothy Hennessy, urged the public to remember that the burden of a proof in a grand jury proceeding is lower than in a jury trial and that the defense did not have a chance to hear the evidence or question witnesses due to the secrecy of the proceeding. The trial was postponed from its original start date in October to give the defense time to review evidence they said was slow to reach them.

After the Wests were arrested, the biological mother and grandmother of the victims filed a wrongful death suit in the amount of $40 million against the Kern County Department of Human Services and others, claiming the boys’ adoptions were negligent and led to their deaths. The lawsuit was dismissed in January.

WATCH: Missing Cal City Toddlers’ Biological Mother Talks to Court TV

In opening statements, the prosecution alleged the Wests adopted Orrin and Orson — who were given the names Classic and Cincere Pettus at birth — with the intention of living off the money they’d receive for providing foster care. Defense attorneys countered that California City was punishing the Wests for “being different” and that officials would rather blame them than continue searching for the boys.

At least some of the West’s four surviving children, who are all currently in state custody, are expected to be called to the stand at trial.

Trezell and Jacqueline West face possible life sentences.

Trial Coverage

Court TV field producer Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this story.