BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — With attorneys, investigators and court records subject to a gag order, there is still little publicly known about what happened to siblings Orrin and Orson West more than two years ago.
That’s about to change.
On Tuesday, the trial of the boys’ adoptive parents begins. Trezell and Jacqueline West are charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and other offenses and face life terms in prison if convicted.
Finally, details that have remained hidden from the public will start coming to light, among them the evidence that led prosecutors to conclude Orrin, 4, and Orson, 3, are dead and that the Wests are responsible.
The defense, for its part, will argue the couple didn’t kill the boys. During jury selection last week, Timothy Hennessy, one of the attorneys representing Trezell West, said the boys may not even be dead, just still missing.
The bodies of Orrin and Orson have not been found despite massive searches involving hundreds of people and an investigation that brought in multiple agencies, including the FBI.
Defense attorney Victor Nasser is co-counsel for Trezell West, and Jacqueline West is represented by Alekxia Torres Stallings and Fatima Rodriguez.
Trezell and Jacqueline West reported the boys missing from their California City home on Dec. 21, 2020. Months passed, then a year. Rewards were offered. Hundreds of tips were investigated, search warrants served.
The boys didn’t turn up.
On March 1, 2022, in a development first reported by 17 News, the Wests were charged and taken into custody. The following day, District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer held a press conference saying the Wests had been indicted by a grand jury and evidence gathered during a painstaking investigation revealed the boys died three months before they were reported missing.
Little else has been revealed. Last week, a document released by the county Department of Human Services said law enforcement concluded the boys died from abuse, but it provided no specifics.
While much of what will be presented at trial over the next couple months remains unknown, there are some things that will certainly happen.
There will be multiple child witnesses. In addition to Orrin and Orson, the Wests were caring for two other adopted children and two biological children. At least some will be called to the stand to testify. Included in the indictment is an allegation the Wests induced a minor to commit a crime.
The jury is going to hear from Department of Human Services officials and how the foster and adoption process works. Prosecutor Eric Smith said during jury selection multiple officials will testify.
Smith also told jurors to expect “hours upon hours” of surveillance footage. This will likely include footage both in California City and Bakersfield, where the Wests and the children previously lived.
Law enforcement dug at locations in both cities, and the jury will visit locations in both. Judge Charles R. Brehmer informed them they’ll spend about half a day at one or more locations in Bakersfield, and a full day at locations in California City.
Of course, many members of law enforcement will testify. There will be witnesses from California City and Bakersfield police departments, and likely others that took part in the investigation.
While most witnesses will testify in person, Brehmer said some will give testimony through Zoom.
Will the Wests testify? That’s unclear. During jury selection defense counsel asked prospective jurors if they understood their clients were under no obligation to take the witness stand. While some said they’d like to hear from the Wests, they agreed not to hold it against them if they didn’t testify.
Since no bodies have been found the jury won’t, as in the vast majority of murder trials, view autopsy photos or hear from a forensic pathologist as to the manner of death.
The case against the Wests is built on circumstantial evidence, which Smith last week said “sometimes gets a bad wrap” but is just as good as direct evidence.
He described circumstantial evidence as “foundational.” One piece of evidence links to another and it builds bit by bit to reasonable basis for drawing a conclusion.
The prosecution has found the evidence points to the conclusion the boys were killed, and the Wests are the culprits.
Opening statements will be heard at 9 a.m. Tuesday. 17 News will be providing regular updates each day of the trial, which is expected to finish sometime in June.