BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (Scripps News Bakersfield) — Attorneys in the Trezell and Jacqueline West trial argued a conspiracy was in place in this case. But from who?
If you ask the prosecution, they’d say it was Trezell and Jacqueline conspiring to cover up the deaths of their adoptive sons Orrin and Orson. If you ask the defense, they’d say it was the investigators who conspired against the couple and ignored other possibilities.
The California City couple reported the boys missing on December 21, 2020. Cal City police responded to search the area, interview the Wests and neighbors, and eventually Bakersfield Police, Kern County Sheriff’s, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were brought on to assist.
The investigation however would lead detectives and the prosecution to believe Orrin and Orson may never have even made it to Cal City. They suspected the boys died months earlier.
“Trezell and Jacqueline have no moral fiber,” Prosecutor Eric Smith said during closing arguments. “They killed two kids.”
According to the prosecution, when police responded to the scene on Dec. 21, 2020, the stories Trezell and Jacqueline were telling them didn’t match. Police looked in the dirt for footprints, but only one could be found and it was from an adult.
Cal City Police Officer Brian Hansen was sent to Bakersfield to speak with the Wests’ other four children. This is when investigators started unraveling a plot, Smith argued.
“[Trezell and Jacqueline] miscalculated because they didn’t know that law enforcement could talk to their kids,” Smith said.
On Dec. 22, 2020, Hansen interviewed the children at Wanda West’s home. Recordings of those videos showed one of the children saying that they hadn’t seen Orrin or Orson since “the apartment”, alluding to the Casa Loma Apartments in Bakersfield. Another child said that when they were brought to Trezell’s mother’s home, Orrin and Orson weren’t in the van.
The children were taken to the Jamison Center in Bakersfield and interviewed again, this time by Sunya Barton, a social worker. On Dec. 28, 2020, the Wests’ eldest son tells Barton that one night he heard strange noises coming from Orrin’s bed and the next day his parents said Orrin had died. The child saying his parents told him if they told anyone the rest of the kids would be taken away.
“That’s what they put on their 10-year-old child. That’s what they forced him to do, promise not to say anything,” Smith argued. “He knew the right thing. The reason he didn’t saying anything earlier was because of his parents.”
Smith argued that Orrin died just before the family was set to move to Cal City, in September 2020, and the couple conspired to hide the death. Then the couple, on Sept. 17, plotted to kill Orson before Wanda was set to help the family move to Cal City, Smith alleged.
“They’re already in the process of moving, questions are going to be asked,” Smith said. “They use COVID as a shield. They set it up, they have three months. Discard the bodies, discard the phones, get new phone numbers.”
Wanda traveled to Cal City on Sept. 19 to bring a U-Haul for the couple. She stayed with the four oldest children until Sept. 20, then drove Trezell back to Bakersfield to pick up the white van. She believed Orrin and Orson were with Jacqueline’s mother, Maria Martinez.
Martinez, however, testified that she hadn’t really seen the family after they moved. The prosecution also played interviews with Jacqueline telling investigators that the boys were with them at that time.
Smith pointing out that out of the family members, no one could recall seeing Orrin or Orson for months. Wanda testifying the last time she remembered seeing the boys was in February or March of 2020. Trezell’s brother and father testifying similarly.
While there were Christmas presents for Orrin and Orson in the Cal City home, Smith argued that those gifts were from Jacqueline’s sister.
“The state entrusted Orrin and Orson to them and what did they do, they killed them,” Smith argued.
“This man’s got no moral fiber? Look at the way he’s looking at those kids,” Trezell’s lead defense attorney Timothy Hennessy said as he showed the jury two photos of the West family with smiling faces as Trezell held Orrin and Orson.
The defense argued that before the end of the first night of investigation, police believed Trezell and Jacqueline were involved in the boys’ dissapearance.
Hennessy arguing that this resulted in police ignoring other potential leads. They didn’t ask follow-up questions to neighbors regarding surveillance videos, they didn’t follow-up on the tip suggesting a sighting of the boys in Arlington, Texas until the defense asked about it, and they didn’t write reports or gather surveillance video from neighbors closest to the Wests’ home.
“They’re scared to admit they were wrong,” Hennessy said. “They just assumed the bodies would show up and the Wests would confess.”
Hennessy argued that on the night Officer Hansen interviewed the Wests’ other children, the questions were leading and improper, resulting in confused children giving confused answers. After the children made partial statements about not seeing Orrin and Orson, Hanson relayed that information to other investigators and it spiraled from there, Hennessy alleged.
“It’s like a bad game of telephone, where everyone just listens to what Hansen has told them,” Hennessy said.
The defense continued to point out inconsistencies in the investigation. He argued that the investigation, which started in Dec. 2020 amid protests regarding George Floyd, couldn’t help but be influenced. He argued this started the first night, when body-worn camera footage showed Trezell pleading with officers to do more to look for the boys and the officer responds alluding to arresting Trezell.
Hennessy, who appears white, argued that if he had reported his children missing, police wouldn’t be questioning him or threatening him with arrest on the same night.
“The whole theory doesn’t add up,” Hennessy said. “We can’t convict two people just because we want to pretend two kids didn’t get [taken].”
Alekxia Torres Stallings, who is lead defense attorney for Jacqueline, laid out several jury instructions during her closing arguments. She specifically focused on instructions relating to reasonable doubt, especially in regards to witness testimony and police evidence in this case.
“A slap in the face,” Torres Stallings said, referring to evidence not gathered by police. She argued this was a result of bias on the investigators part and that they didn’t want to find evidence that could exonerate Trezell and Jacqueline.
“Check your bias,” Torres Stallings pleaded of the jury. “There is nothing in this case that points to the unreasonable conclusion that they did anything.”
Finishing closing arguments, Smith told the jury that ultimately this case will come down to who the jury believes. Trezell and Jacqueline? Or their children?
This story was originally published by Scripps News Bakersfield, an E.W. Scripps Company.