Teresa Rangel lay on a living-room couch bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to her head. Her boyfriend, Robert Vanderheiden, was leaning over her body, pleading for her to live.
Vanderheiden was screaming, “Please don’t die,” according to testimony from Stanislaus County sheriff’s Sgt. Marc Nuno.
A trial for Vanderheiden continued Tuesday as sheriff’s officials testified about what they encountered in the defendant’s home. He is accused of murder in the shooting death of his 26-year-old girlfriend, along with inflicting corporal injury on a spouse.
Nuno told the jury that Rangel was on the couch with her head on a pillow at one end and her legs stretched out on the other. He said her arms lay at her sides and appeared rigid, and she seemed to have been gasping for air.
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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.
When the deputies entered the home, Nuno said, he didn’t see a gun or shell casings on the living-room floor. Vanderheiden’s brother-in-law, who didn’t witness the shooting, told the deputies that the handgun was on the back porch. A shell casing was found under a floor mat near the porch entrance to the home, according to Nuno.
He testified that the defendant had a lot of blood on his face and hands, so much so that Nuno asked him to wash off the blood because he was afraid of contaminating the scene. Vanderheiden did not have any apparent injuries in the shooting.
The defendant kept telling the deputies that they needed to get help for his girlfriend. Nuno told the jury that Vanderheiden was an “emotional roller coaster” that night.
The sheriff’s sergeant said he tried a few times to calm down Vanderheiden, who was displaying an “angry, excited” demeanor. “He just wasn’t being cooperative,” Nuno told the jury.
But the jury didn’t hear what Vanderheiden refused to tell Nuno.
Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden has ruled that it’s not appropriate for the jury to know that Vanderheiden refused to tell Nuno how Rangel was shot, because he wasn’t in custody at that time and later invoked his right to remain silent.
After the prosecutor inadvertently elicited that information from another witness Tuesday, the judge warned Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira that such questioning could result in a mistrial.
The prosecutor said she was clarifying information defense attorney Kirk McAllister asked about during his cross-examination.
Ferreira explained that Nuno’s written report indicates that Vanderheiden said he and his girlfriend were watching TV when the shooting occurred, and that he didn’t want to say anything more because it might be misinterpreted. After the judge’s warnings to the prosecutor, Ferreira didn’t ask Nuno about those details.
Testimony in the trial is expected to continue today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.