BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — After reviewing recorded interviews between Trezell and Jacqueline West's eldest son and a social worker, Dr. Susan Napolitano said she believed the child had been questioned improperly in ways that could have resulted in false memories and allegations.
Before the defense rested its case Wednesday, Napolitano was called to offer her expert analysis as a child psychologist and forensic interviewer. She's conducted over 100 child forensic interviews and testified in dozens of criminal and civil cases.
Napolitano testified that she reviewed recordings of the interviews with the Wests' children between police and social worker Sunya Barton.
In an interview on Dec. 22, 2020, the Napolitano assessed that the child had been woken up and questioned almost immediately by police. She said details that stood out to her were when officers asked the child if he knew it was wrong to kill someone or help kill someone. Napolitano said that this was a leading question, and the officer followed by asking about Orrin and Orson.
Napolitano explained that there are specific protocols in place to prevent false memories and allegations when interviewing children. She said one of the most important protocols is to conduct a forensic interview as soon and possible and only one, in order to prevent contamination.
A forensic interview was done that same day by Sunya Barton. During this interview, Napolitano said she saw many things done right, like asking open-ended questions and following up. She also pointed out things she said should not be done.
During that interview, Napolitano said she noticed Barton use "social pressure" statements when asking the child about possible abuse. In one instance, Napolitano said she heard Barton tell the child what will it take for you to tell me," in reference to abuse allegations.
Napolitano also claimed Barton would repeat questions to the child until he said a specific answer, something Napolitano said should not happen in a forensic interview.
On cross examination, the prosecution pointed out that Napolitano is being paid to provide her expertise an estimated $35,000 to $42,000 from the county.
Prosecutor Eric Smith asking Napolitano if she had read the nearly 2,000-page offense report related to this case or any of the evidence aside from the interviews with the children. Napolitano said she hadn't.
In an attempt to discredit Napolitano, Smith asked about a lawsuit that had been filed against her in a previous case for alleged bias towards her client. Napolitano confirming a suit had been filed, but that the judge dismissed it citing no bias on her part.
Smith also asked Napolitano if she knew he requested all her notes regarding this case. Napolitano said she had not been made aware of that request.
Before finishing his cross, Smith requested those notes.
The trial has concluded its evidence portion. Closing argument are expected to begin Tuesday at 9 a.m.