Authorities in California’s Central Valley region now believe long-missing brothers Orrin West, 4, and Orson West, 3, were killed three months before they were reported missing in December 2020.
“It’s a horrific tragedy that these precious little boys had to lose their lives,” Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said during a press conference late Wednesday morning local time.
“Orrin and Orson West are deceased,” the DA continued. “They died three months before their adoptive parents reported them missing.”
The boys’ adoptive parents, Trezell Phillip West, 35, and Jacqueline Gabrielle West, 32, were indicted by a Kern County grand jury after a three-month-long presentation of evidence, the DA said. The couple, who hail from California City, Calif., were arrested last night by the Bakersfield Police Department and are being held without bail.
The defendants are charged with two counts each of murder in the second degree and willful cruelty to a child, Law&Crime previously reported. They have also both been charged with one count each of false report of an emergency.
During the press conference, the DA repeatedly said she was prohibited from discussing the facts of the case, citing her own interpretation of California legal ethics rules.
“I can’t say anything like that,” Zimmer said at one point when asked a question about the circumstances of the alleged deaths. “We are prohibited from discussing the facts of the case.”
The presentation was largely conclusory, but Zimmer explained the grand jury and indictment process while defending the decision to go to trial without the bodies of the brothers being found.
The adoptive parents have repeatedly said they last saw Orrin West and Orson West playing outside on the afternoon of Dec. 21, 2020. The threadbare allegations relayed today by law enforcement would appear to severely undermine that long-promoted timeline.
“The search for the boys began after the real tragedy had already occurred,” Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry said during the press conference. “This is not a resolution in this case. And there will not be a resolution in this case–not completely–until these boys are brought home.”
“Bottom line is we have two small boys who we believe are no longer here, are dead, and that’s terrible,” California City Police Chief Jon Walker, who is resigning at the end of the month, added.
During the question-and-answer portion of the press conference, two reporters asked two different questions about the three-month gulf between the brothers’ alleged murders and their formally reported disappearance. After allegedly searching for the brothers that night, the defendants called police and made the missing persons report.
One reporter asked how homicide charges could be proven without bodies but was shut down by the DA, who returned to a previous defense she made of trials that successfully center around “no body homicides.”
Another reporter asked if, due to that three-month timeline, Orrin West and Orson West were ever in California City in the first place. The DA did not answer but said that was a “good question.”
Other reporters asked various questions and had similar bad luck in eliciting specific factual answers from Zimmer on Wednesday.
At one point, the DA appeared audibly agitated by a question about the placement processes of Golden State child welfare authorities. Orrin West and Orson West were named Classic Pettus and Cincere Pettus at birth. Their biological father, Charles Pettus, has raised concerns about the adoption process and has filed a lawsuit against Kern County officials. The father has also expressed dismay at how the boys’ blood relatives were made aware of the children’s disappearances and presumed deaths. Law&Crime has duly noted those concerns in a previous report.
Some of those concerns were echoed by reporters.
“We have had contact with the family,” Zimmer said in response to a question about law enforcement’s efforts to provide answers to the brothers’ biological parents. But again, she did not go into detail.
“It’s called a jury trial, sir,” Zimmer said, again audibly agitated, when asked how news of the boys’ alleged death will be provided to the biological family. “I think the news last night already did that.”
Keeping mum all-but throughout, the DA also declined to explain why the charges against the defendants are second-degree murder, if any additional arrests were planned, or to offer specifics about the four other children who were previously in the West household.
Generally speaking, a second-degree murder charge in the Golden State alleges that a criminal defendant acted with malice and intent but without premeditation or deliberation.
The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on Mar. 3, 2022.
Law&Crime called and emailed the local court clerk’s office to attempt to obtain a copy of the case file currently amassed against both defendants. The office referred us to the Bakersfield Police Department for some documents and said others, including the indictment itself, were not yet available publicly.
[image via screengrab/Kern County District Attorney’s Office]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]