Murder trial testimony begins for man accused of shooting girlfriend near Keyes

04/04/2014 5:19 PM

04/04/2014 9:25 PM

A woman on Friday told a jury that the man accused of killing her daughter said nobody would ever take her away from him.

Sandra Rangel testified that defendant Robert Vanderheiden said this about her daughter, Teresa Rangel, during a discussion in Vanderheiden’s living room. The mother was trying to get her daughter to return to her family in Concord.

Rangel’s family members told Vanderheiden that they weren’t trying to take the young woman away from him. The mother testified that the defendant’s response was, “No, that wasn’t going to work for him.”

Testimony in Vanderheiden’s trial began Friday. He is accused of murder in the shooting death of his 26-year-old girlfriend. The defendant also has been charged with inflicting corporal injury on a spouse.

The shooting occurred March 21, 2011, at a rural home where Vanderheiden and Rangel lived with his grandparents along Warner Road, about a mile west of Highway 99 southwest of Keyes. Stanislaus County sheriff’s officials have said the couple had a relationship for about six to nine months.

Sandra Rangel spoke to her daughter briefly on the phone as Teresa was leaving Vanderheiden’s home with her sisters. She testified that her daughter said, “Mom, I’m coming home. I need my family.”

But her daughter changed her mind during the car ride and asked her sisters to turn back because she wanted to return to Vanderheiden’s home.

In cross-examination, Sandra Rangel testified that she asked whether her daughter was sober during that phone conversation. The young woman had a drug problem that started when she was 18 and progressed over the years. She said her daughter was, at one point, estranged from her family for about five years.

Teresa Rangel successfully completed a drug rehab program, but she returned to drugs shortly before she lost contact with her family. She appeared sober when she reconnected with her family, they said, after Sandra Rangel learned Teresa had a child. Vanderheiden was not the father of the child.

Vanderheiden once called Sandra Rangel and said her daughter was a liar for not letting him view her Facebook messages, she testified Friday. He told her that her daughter was leaving him because he wouldn’t tolerate liars, according to the mother.

Sandra Rangel told the jury that she was surprised about her daughter’s behavior around Vanderheiden because she had always made her own decisions, even when they were bad ones. “He was controlling her,” she said about Vanderheiden.

Kirk McAllister, Vanderheiden’s attorney, has argued that there’s no evidence to indicate this was an intentional shooting and it’s possible this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

In a February 2012 preliminary hearing, forensic pathologist Sung-Ook Baik testified that Rangel suffered a gunshot wound in the center of her forehead. He said there were no indications that the gun was fired at close range.

Prosecutors have said in court that there’s no evidence Rangel shot herself with Vanderheiden’s handgun and that her attempt to leave the home was met with “anger and hostility” from the defendant.

Testimony in the trial is expected to continue Tuesday in Stanislaus Superior Court.

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