By: Veronica Morley
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (Scripps News Bakersfield) — After weeks of hearings and testimony, 12 jurors came to the conclusion that Trezell and Jacqueline West were guilty in five of the seven counts in connection to the deaths of their adoptive sons Orrin and Orson West.
The jury was hung on two counts. After being asked by the judge, the foreman of the jury said they would not be able to come to a verdict on those counts.
Both Trezell and Jacqueline West were found guilty of murder second degree, involuntary manslaughter, two counts of willful cruelty to a child, and false report of an emergency
The Cal City couple originally reported Orrin, 4, and Orson, 3, missing on December 21, 2020. Police immediately responded and began searching the area. Aerial searches were brought in, cadaver dogs, and even the community organized search parties for the children.
Still, the bodies of Orrin and Orson have never been found.
WATCH: Cal City Toddlers Trial: Closing Arguments
As the prosecution laid out in court, investigators quickly began to suspect foul play on the part of the parents. All of this is based on the statements of four children under the age of eleven.
Officer Brian Hansen was sent to interview the Wests’ other children, who were with Trezell’s mother Wanda. He asked each child if they understood the difference between a truth or a lie. The children were able to exhibit that they did. He then asked if they knew it was wrong to kill someone. Again, the children said yes.
During the trial, the prosecution pointed to these interviews as the first pieces of evidence that something had happened to Orrin and Orson. The defense, on the other hand, said these interviews were improper, with leading questions that had no established timeline. Defense counsel argued that the children gave conflicting statements and were confused when answering questions.
Recordings of these interviews showed the children at times saying that Orrin and Orson weren’t in the van when they were brought to Wanda’s, that they were only in Cal City for a few days, or that they hadn’t seen them since the family moved from the Casa Loma apartments in Bakersfield.
The defense argued that after these interviews, Hansen delivered information that something happened to Orrin and Orson, causing the investigation to focus on Trezell and Jacqueline.
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The couple were brought in to speak with Hansen, Bakersfield Police Detective John Ryan, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Recordings of the interview with Jacqueline were played during the trial. In those recordings, Jacqueline is grilled for hours about her story not matching Trezell’s or statements from other family members. By the end of the interrogation, Jacqueline is frustrated having said repeatedly that she’s said the truth, and tells Ryan that she regrets getting the police involved.
While Trezell and Jacqueline were questioned by investigators, their children were brought to the Jamison Center to be interviewed by social worker Sunya Barton.
During an interview on Dec. 28, the Wests’ eldest biological son said that one night heard strange noises coming from Orrin’s bed. He said, in a recorded interview, that the following day he saw vomit coming from Orrin’s nose, his parents said Orrin had died, and that he even touched his body and it was cold.
The child said that he didn’t tell anyone because his parents said that he and his brothers would get taken away.
The defense argued that the story the child told Barton was the result of days of interrogation, exposure to media coverage, and improper questioning. They brought in Dr. Susan Napolitano, a child psychologist, to review the interviews and testify to leading and suggestive questions.
In her review, Dr. Napolitano said she heard moments where Barton used techniques like social pressure to influence the child. At one point during the recording, Barton is referring to alleged abuse and tells the child that all his brothers had described it so why doesn’t he? Dr. Napolitano said this was improper and could have caused the child to begin answering questions in order to please Barton rather than to tell the truth.
The prosecution revealed that Dr. Napolitano was being paid between $35,000 to $42,000 to testify for the defense and that she only reviewed a few of the interviews and not the 2,000-page offense report.
While the defense argued that the investigation was unjustly aimed at Trezell and Jacqueline, the prosecution began to highlight ways that their stories didn’t match. The prosecution said Jacqueline claimed she had looked for the boys and ran down the street to search, but there was no surveillance video showing this. In fact, call records from that night showed Jacqueline had been on the phone with her eldest son for four to five minutes during that period.
READ MORE: Cal City Toddlers Trial: CA v. Jacqueline and Trezell West
Call records also discredited other statements from Trezell and Jacqueline, like when the family visited Maria Martinez for her birthday on Dec. 5. Jacqueline said her mother was not home so they only dropped things off and left. Martinez however said the family stayed while Trezell went to get food, and she didn’t recall seeing Orrin and Orson. Cell phone records show the couple in different parts of Bakersfield that day.
Martinez testified many times that she didn’t see the family much after the move to Cal City. She visited once to talk to Jacqueline and, while she saw several children in the home, she didn’t focus on who was there.
Trezell’s mother, Wanda, said that when she went to babysit the Wests’ children on Sept. 19, she knew she was only watching the four older boys and assumed Orrin and Orson were with Martinez. However, Martinez said she didn’t watch the boys.
Investigators began to suspect that this was what led the couple to plot. They suspected Orrin died just before the family moved to Cal City and because they were worried that Wanda would ask questions after seeing Orson, they decided to kill him. The prosecution argued that this gave the couple three months to discard the bodies, get rid of their cell phones and change their numbers, and finish moving.
Then Christmas approached.
During the trial, Wanda and her husband Phillip testified that they had been planning to visit the family in Cal City. Wanda even said she had sent presents and asked the couple for a family photo in front of the fireplace. She never got that photo.
The prosecution believed this put pressure on the couple, which ultimately led them to decide to report the boys missing.
This story was originally published on May 19, 2023, by KERO in Bakersfield, an E.W. Scripps Company.