The prosecution and defense gave opening statements today in the matter of The People versus Robert Allen Barnhart, Case Number 11WF2614. Mr. Barnhart is charged with two counts of Assault With a Deadly Weapon and one count of Misdemeanor Battery.
The case is being overseen by Judge Lance P. Jensen, and the jury is composed of seven women and five men.
The charges against Mr. Barnhart stem from an incident that occurred on the morning of November 5, 2011, in which Mr. Barnhart’s Dodge Ram pickup truck was rear-ended by an Isuzu Rodeo driven by then-18-year-old Jesse Ochoa. The initial accident occurred on northbound Bloomfield St., just south of Ball Rd. in the city of Los Alamitos.
Mr. Barnhart, according to Deputy District Attorney Kristin Bracic of the Felony Panel, then stepped out of his vehicle and shouted profanities at Ochoa, who subsequently fled the scene. Mr. Barnhart pursued him to Ball Rd., allegedly striking Ochoa’s vehicle in what was described by multiple witnesses as a “PIT-like maneuver,” referencing a police tactic in which an officer uses his vehicle to strike a fleeing vehicle and cause it to spin around.
Ochoa’s vehicle then spun 180 degrees, and he continued fleeing, now headed westbound in the eastbound lanes of Ball Rd. Mr. Barnhart then allegedly made a U-turn and cut in front of Mr. Ochoa’s vehicle just before the intersection of Ball Rd. and Bloomfield St. Mr. Ochoa’s vehicle then “broadsided” Mr. Barnhart’s pickup truck.
At this point, the prosecution contends that Mr. Barnhart exited his vehicle and attempted to drag Mr. Ochoa from the SUV. Two witnesses then intervened and subdued Mr. Barnhart.
“This is a case about one very heated temper,” Ms. Bracic said in her opening statements, regarding Mr. Barnhart’s behavior during the incident. Multiple witnesses on the stand described the defendant as “very angry” and “agitated” and “swearing a lot”.
Defense attorney Mike Perez emphasized that Mr. Ochoa had no driver’s license or insurance at the time of the accident, and also had prior incidents with the law. He contended that Ochoa was trying to avoid responsibility, and that his client was attempting to stop Mr. Ochoa from fleeing the scene of the accident.
He described the proceedings as “a short trial, but obviously for my client, a very important one.”
Jesse Ochoa was the first witness called, followed by his girlfriend, Cassaundra Coyne, who was in the SUV driven by Ochoa at the time of the incident. The prosecution then called three witnesses to the incident, including the two people who subdued Mr. Barnhart. The final witness called today was Officer Jacob Sorensen of the Los Alamitos Police Department.
Judge Jensen indicated that the proceedings should wrap up tomorrow.
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