After more than a year of conjecture about the locations of two California City brothers who were reported missing, the boys’ adoptive parents filed not guilty pleas to second-degree murder charges in their deaths on Thursday.
Judge Chad A. Louie of Kern County Superior Court described defendants Trezell, 35, and Jacqueline West, 32, as a substantial risk to the public safety when he ordered the parents held without bond. Neither of them shown any emotion throughout Thursday’s sessions.
Each faces two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of deliberate cruelty to children, and one misdemeanour charge of falsely reporting an emergency in connection with the deaths of Orrin, 4, and Orson West, 3.
Kern County Deputy District Attorney Eric Smith has asked the court to impose a gag order and seal the grand jury’s indictment transcripts, all of which are scheduled to be considered during a hearing Tuesday.
Louie approved Smith’s motion to seal the offence reports in this case, which outline the investigation conducted by the Bakersfield Police Department.
The Wests were represented in court by attorneys from the Kern County Indigent Defense Program; Jacqueline West was represented by Alekxia Torres-Stallings. Mai Shawwa represented Trezell West as a substitute for Tim Hennessy.
A trial might begin as early as May 23, Louie indicated. Both parents face a maximum sentence of 30 years to life in prison if convicted of the charges, Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said Wednesday during a press conference.
The remains of the two boys remain missing, Zimmer stated, despite the fact that the grand jury determined the boys were dead and indicted the adoptive parents based on “direct and circumstantial evidence.”
According to the indictment, Trezell and Jacqueline West “induced others to engage in the conduct of the crime” or “held a position of leadership… in its commission.” Additionally, the indictment stated that the adoptive parents committed “a felony involving considerable violence… other actions demonstrating a high degree of cruelty, viciousness, or callousness.”
Additionally, the indictment alleges that the defendants coerced “a juvenile into committing or assisting in the commission of a crime.” Other claims include “threaten[ing] witnesses” and attempting to prevent or dissuade them from testifying.
Zimmer stated on Wednesday that she is unable to comment on the circumstances of the case.
Thursday morning, a number of people gathered at the courtroom to demonstrate their support for the West brothers. They all stated that they demand justice and have been following the case since the boys’ disappearance in December 2020.
Rosanna Wills, a cousin of the brothers, said knowing their parents are in jail brings comfort. She stated that she wishes to hold them accountable for their acts.
“How are you all capable of causing harm to these infants?” As Wills stated. “It’s simply heartbreaking.”
Wills was also appreciative that the court did not set bail for the defendants, since she does not want them to depart the country.
“If (the adoptive parents) die, we will never have closure,” Wills added. “We require additional bodies.”
Charles Pettus, the brothers’ biological father, told The Californian he seeks justice. He also expressed gratitude to the community for assisting in the hunt for his boys.
“I appreciate everyone’s efforts,” Pettus said Thursday. “We’re simply waiting to see how it plays out… We’ll receive closure on all we’ve endured (while) searching for our babies.”
Pettus filed a case against Kern County on Sept. 29 saying that Kern County Child Protective Services and others acted recklessly in releasing the children to the West parents.
Jana Slagle, the Department of Human Services’ spokeswoman, said in an email Wednesday that she is unable to comment on the case due to privacy regulations.
Pettus’ attorney, Antonio Castillo, said Thursday that the action is in the “pleading phase,” or very early stages. In late January, the attorney filed a lawsuit against Kern County and stated that he is in communication with county lawyers.
Castillo said that the initial complaint may be revised to incorporate the newly discovered information. This civil action might likewise be adjourned until the conclusion of the criminal trial, Castillo suggested.
“Charles (Pettus) wishes to ensure that such an incident never occurs again,” Castillo added. “However, we must reveal the flaws inside… (Child Protective Services) and the manner in which they essentially remove children.”