A jailhouse informant testified Thursday about his secretly-recorded conversation with the defendant in the Herrera fratricide trial, alleging that he was able to obtain a confession to the crime.
The informant, who began his testimony last week, was placed in a jail cell next to Arturo Herrera, 31, the day after he was arrested for allegedly murdering his younger brother, Enrique, last year in their Lompoc home.
Testimony at the Santa Maria Superior Court revealed that the agent, reportedly a former gang member who pleaded guilty to extortion in 2015, had entered into an agreement with the District Attorney's Office last year to continue cooperating with law enforcement on multiple cases. In exchange, the agent would be granted an earlier release once he completed testifying in all cases.
In his opening statements Aug. 17, Deputy District Attorney Brandon Jebens told the jury of their hourlong conversation, which was secretly recorded.
"Did you do it [alleged crime] with someone else, or by yourself?" the agent reportedly asked Arturo after Arturo told him what he had been arrested for.
"Let's say if I did it by myself, what'll happen?" Arturo reportedly replied.
"So you did it by yourself?" the agent had pressed, to which Arturo reportedly responded, "Yeah."
When the agent asked Arturo if the alleged victim was a female, Arturo confirmed that it wasn’t.
On Thursday morning, defense attorney Sydney Bennett resumed her cross-examination, questioning what the agent had been promised for his cooperation on Arturo's case and others. She speculated the agent had to do whatever he could to get out of jail.
The agent also testified that all inmates ask newcomers what they're arrested for "because we don't like to sleep near baby killers and child molesters,” then asked Arturo what he was in for and offered him help. He also admitted that he lied about some of his own charges during their conversation.
"So you were telling him lies. You said you could help him (and that he could) learn from you," Bennett pressed.
The agent confirmed he had lied.
When the agent asked Arturo what weapon he allegedly used to kill, and when Arturo responded that he didn't know, the agent reportedly replied, "You're already in for that [murder], dog. So there's no point not knowing what you used."
"[The police] said nothing about manipulation, did they?" Bennett asked. "They wanted to use your skills as a manipulator, a criminal."
"As a criminal, yes," the agent responded.
Under Jebens' redirect, the agent confirmed Arturo already had told him he'd been arrested on murder charges in an attempt to persuade the jury that manipulation had not been used to gain information about a possible murder weapon.
After the prosecution rested its case, the defense's expert witness Dr. Blaine Kern, chief forensic DNA analysis consultant and founder of the Human Identification Technology, testified he had been given reports and photographs of DNA samples found on a towel discovered at the scene.
The prosecution has alleged that Arturo did laundry and showered in an attempt to clean up the murder scene.
When he zoomed in on a photo of the towel, Kern noted that the small blood stain appeared to look coagulated.
"The fact that it's on the towel in that [gel-like] state makes no sense that it went through the wash cycle, with detergent, water and soap," said Kern, explaining that the gel-like matter would have dissolved.
Under Jebens' cross-examination, Kern admitted that he didn't test any evidence himself, didn't see the crime scene and based his opinions solely on looking at the photos and police reports.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Carolyn Murphy, who evaluated Arturo's mental state following his arrest, also testified, claiming that Arturo showed no symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that was military-related, psychopathic traits, depression or mental illness.
When asked about Arturo's "calm" demeanor, witnessed by officers at the crime scene, Murphy testified that everyone experiences shock differently. Some become anxious or agitated, while others shut off emotionally.
Under Jebens' questioning, Murphy admitted that during their interview Arturo cited his military experience and absent father, who was in and out of prison, as the most significant traumatic events of his life.
"But seeing Enrique on his bed wasn't traumatic?" Jebens asked.
"No, that [incident] didn't come up," she replied.
Murphy also admitted nobody has to be labeled a narcissist, antisocial, psychopath to commit a crime, and there was no "personality type" for murder.
Testimony in the case resumes Friday morning.