On November 20, 2013, Ron started his day early. It was a Wednesday, and he met one of his cousins at her work at 7 am — that was when her workday finished. Together, they went to Walmart. Since Ron had lost his job and home, this kind woman had bought him a $40 phone card once a month, for a couple months now. Then they went to her place in Escondido and she cooked up a nice breakfast. Ron enjoyed some pleasant time with her.
Then Ron went to the Human Resources building in Escondido. “I was establishing contact and making an appointment for counseling.” He was there about an hour, filling out paperwork. He was seeking help because he had been feeling so down lately. Monette, another one of his cousins, had recommended that place. “She encouraged me to go.” Monette knew that Ron had lost custody of his grandson, and could not find work, and then lost the trailer he lived in. Ron was currently living out of his car.
“Monette... she was my confidante,” he said later. “I was able to get some solid advice from her, she was one of the only people I could be totally honest with, talk to.”
Ron and Monette grew up in Escondido. They were close as kids, and they stayed in touch. “She was a cousin of mine, a very close cousin.” Monette knew about his troubles. Back in 1979, when Ron was 17 years old, there was a girl the same age. He was accused of rape; he denied it. Ron went on trial in 1981. He was convicted and sent to prison for four years. He is now a registered sex offender for life in California. Ron does admit his conviction, but he still insists, “I did not commit the crime.”
Late that morning, Ron went to the home of his cousin Monette. Before he came over, “I would always call.” Monette was 54 then, three years older than Ron. For the last couple months, since Ron had returned to Escondido, Monette had let him use her shower two or three times a week. “We were on good terms, yes.” Ron made an effort not to overwhelm any one friend with all his needs.
Ron had met Monette’s husband. “I think I only met him twice.” He liked Walter fine. “We got along great.” Ron usually visited his cousin Monette during the day while her husband was at work.
Monette’s home was in Escondido near the intersection of the 15 and 78 freeways. That morning, Ron parked his car near the cyclone fencing around her yard. Ron liked his old Mercedes Benz, an early 80s model. It was the only nice thing he owned.
Ron knocked on the door and Monette yelled at him to come in but the metal screen door was locked. Monette often kept her front door open and the screen door closed because she liked to smoke in the front room. Monette got up out of her favorite chair and opened the screen door. She was on the phone. “I believe she was talking to Erica,” Ron remembered. “That’s her youngest girlfriend.” Erica is married to Monette’s oldest son.
Ron came into the living room; it was just he and Monette there. Monette was fond of her new daughter-in-law; she hoped Erica would be a good influence on her son. “She was in a deep conversation with Erica, how she should act and be with her son, cause he was out here making trouble, and you have to take hold of those reins and pull him in.” Ron later remembered more of what he overheard: “Put a little bit more, you know, clamp down on him; you know, don’t let him run wild.”
Monette plopped back into her big, cushioned, high-backed chair. She almost lived in that comfy chair. Her computer and phone and drink were kept conveniently near, on the coffee table.
Ron went to take his shower. There was only one bathroom in the two-bedroom apartment, so he yelled to the woman in the guest room, asking if she needed to use the restroom before he started his shower. She said no, and he took his shower. Then Ron changed into fresh clothes he had brought.
After she got off the phone, Monette and Ron gossiped about her awful sister, the one who had taken all the inheritance. “There was bad feelings between the sisters,” Ron remembered. Monette’s mother and father had passed away a year ago, just months apart. That was hard enough, and then one sister took the entire estate for herself, instead of dispersing it among the five siblings, according to Monette.
While they talked, Monette occasionally got out of her chair to tend her chihuahaus. She had three of them in the kitchen; they were contained by a child’s gate.
Ron said that Monette was her usual self, but then at a certain moment, she changed. “Yeah, when she came through the door, Asiatae. Then [Monette] kinda froze up, a whole different side of herself.”
Asiatae was the adult daughter of Monette’s husband Walter. She was 35 years old then, in 2013. Asiatae had been living in Las Vegas, where her mother lived, but about a month earlier she had returned to Escondido. Asiatae was born in Escondido, but left when she was very young, when her parents divorced.
Ron had seen Asiatae previously, “I believe about three times.... Me and Monette were smoking, she walked past and said, ‘It is stuffy in here,’ and pulled the door open wider.” Ron noticed she was wearing a long coat and remarked that it was “kinda warm” for that. Asiatae did not answer and went out the front door. It was cloudy and gray all that day in San Diego County, muggy and uncomfortable.
Ron said Monette made it clear to him that she did not like Asiatae staying at her house. And she was going to ask her husband to tell Asiatae to leave. Why? “She was getting bad feelings,” Ron said. “She told me a couple times, after naps, she woke up and [Asiatae] was just staring at her.” Monette had a habit of napping in her big chair.
“The week prior, it was just a feeling she got from her, when she was around the house, she would ask her questions and she wouldn’t answer.... When she was in bed with Walter, she got the impression Asiatae was staring at her.”
“She was more or less scared. She was not comfortable with having her in her home, and she wanted her husband to have her leave.” Ron confirmed that Monette expressed this to him, “The last couple visits, yes.”
Some time later that same day, Asiatae returned. Ron was still there. She came in the front door and went to her room. Then, “She came out and did something in the kitchen, maybe she got something to drink.” Then Asiatae went outside again; she sat in a chair next to the front door.
Monette and Ron visited a while longer; then Ron decided it was time to go. When he went out the front door Ron saw Asiate. “She was sitting out there smoking.” He said bye or see you later, but: “I don’t remember her saying anything.” Ron next went to the home of another friend in Escondido; it was about five minutes away. He remembered arriving about 1 pm.
Ron said Monette was alive when he left.
That Wednesday was a normal morning for Walter. “Went to work.” He worked at a nearby auto shop. “I’m an automotive technician.” He worked the closing shift, which started at 10 am and finished between 6 and 7 pm. He usually took his lunch at 2 o’clock. He remembered when he left that morning, his wife was seated in her favorite chair. “I kissed her and said goodbye.” There was “Nothing different” about her, Walter later recalled. She was “her normal self.”
Walter and Monette had been married 17 years, and they had one 17-year-old son who lived with them. That son got himself up and caught the bus to school, his regular routine, before his father left for work.
Walter was pleased with his wife Monette. “I had a drama-free wife.” And she was beautiful. His pet name for her was Deva, that was how he ID’d her on his cell phone. She did almost all the cooking. “All I did was cut watermelon,” he joked. He was later asked if they kept their knives in a butcher block on the counter, but he said no, their knives were all kept in a drawer in the kitchen.
Walter is 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighs 320 pounds. His wife Monette was 4 feet 11 inches tall. In November 2013, they were both 54 years old.
Walkter was 19 years old when his first wife gave him his precious daughter, Asiatae. Walter wanted to be a good husband and father, but divorce came shortly thereafter. “I didn’t want it to happen. I was very bitter,” he said.
Walter was welcoming and loving to his children. “My daughter always loved me, my son always loved me, they still do.”
Why are you calling
While he was at work that Wednesday five years ago, Walter tried to call his wife. He dialed twice that morning, but Monette never picked up. So at 1:20 pm he was glad to see a call coming into his phone from “Deva.” But he was surprised when he heard his daughter’s voice. Why was Asiatae calling from his wife’s phone? He asked her, “Why are you calling?”
She said, “There is something wrong with Monette.” His daughter said she saw Monette in her chair and “she is hurt.” Almost exactly a year prior — when Monette’s parents passed away — she became depressed. “That was really a big thing to her.” He came home one day and found that Monette had cut herself. Walter got help for Monette and believed she was back to a safe place, emotionally. “I thought she was doing better.”
So he pressed his daughter Asiatae, “‘Is she bleeding? What happened?’ I asked her, ‘Well, what’s wrong with her?’ I asked her, ‘Is she sleeping or what is she doing?’ She said, ‘She is okay, she is sleeping.’” That did not sound like an emergency. So Walter got off the phone with his daughter, went back to work, and clocked out for his usual lunch hour at 2 pm.
His work was not far away, so he arrived home a little after 2 pm. “The door was locked. Sometimes she locked it, sometimes she would open it and leave the screen door closed.” He remembered, “I opened the door, the strangest thing, the blinds were closed. In the morning, the blinds were open.” Usually, Monette opened up the window coverings to let the sun in. “For herself and for the whole house, she does that all the time.”
Walter could barely see Monette in her chair. “Yeah, I thought she was asleep then. It was real dark in there. It was so dark, I just went to my closet.” He put some clean work clothes in there. “I told her I was home. Then I hung my clothes up. I said, ‘Wake up.’ I said, ‘I came for a sandwich.’ I said, ‘What’s wrong? Are you tired?’” Things didn’t seem right. “The dogs were all over her. On her lap. Around her. Just sitting around her. On her.”And then he saw the blood. “I called 911.” The police dispatcher picked up at 2:13 pm.
At that time, Escondido police were trying a new thing: chest-worn video cameras or bodycams. Their cameras captured an exact record of what they found.
Paramedics arrived quickly and they first checked Monette’s vital signs. Walter remembered the awful moment. “They told me that they were sorry. I said, ‘Don’t say that! Just keep trying!’”
The cops tried to get Walter to step outside. “I didn’t want to leave. I wanted them to save her.”
Escondido police officer Robert Craig later testified in court, “Mister Walter was visibly shaken and was almost panicking.” Walter is a large man, and it was frightening when he began to wail and pace around. The police bodycams caught both audio and video. The chihuahuas constantly barking in the background added to the manic atmosphere.
The cops were trying to get Walter out of the room. “She’s breathing!” Walter insisted. “I will be right here, I’m not going outside.” While one cop tried to escort him toward the open front door, he said, “That’s my wife man.” The barking chihuahuas were crazy-making. Walter demanded, “What’s going on? What’s going on? Why aren’t you helping her? No she is not! She is not! Please do something!” He cried out.
“Sir, we need you to come out here please,” one cop pleaded.
The cop who was able to escort Walter outside had a bodycam, and the camera captured Asiatae standing quietly outside. Her calm expression changed when her emotional father joined her; she looked sideways at him with alarm.
A cop testified in court later, “Miss Asiatae had a flat demeanor, she did not react to statement that victim was deceased.”
Deputy medical examiner for San Diego County Dr. Craig Nelson, said that Monette was stabbed dozens of times. “In this case, all of the injuries together were fatal; some might have been survivable, but all together it was fatal.” Most of the wounds were on her torso, some were on her hands and arms — a prosecutor described those as“defensive.”
When she returned home, Asiatae told police that she went for a walk around the neighborhood, to several convenience stores nearby, and when she returned home, she found a bloody Monette slumped in her chair.
Asiatae made statements to police suggesting that it must have been that friend of hers, that man who was with her, who had stabbed Monette. Asiatae claimed that while she was in her bedroom, before she came out, she heard Monette make crude sexual suggestions to her cousin Ron.
Later Asiatae complained about one detective, “Just, he was just being rude.” She claimed that while she was making her handwritten statement, “This detective came into the room, and instantly he accused me of murdering Monette, and me and my father were having an intimate relationship and that’s why we did this to her…. And he was slandering me.”
Asiatae might have become accustomed, over her lifetime, to describing herself as the victim. She testified when she went on trial more than four years later. Asiatae Robinette Bell was accused of first-degree murder in May of 2018.
‘I would hear voices”
While Asiatae was in the witness box, she described a horrific life. She changed homes often, staying with different relatives in different towns and states. She was raped when she was 11 and had an abortion when she was 12. When she was 16, she had a son, he is now deceased. When she was 18 years old, “I worked at a lounge as a stripper. Cheetahs. In Las Vegas.” She said she was drugged and raped that same year. When she was 22, she had twins, “I had a boy and a girl.” She did not raise any of her own children.
Her father remembered, “When Asiatae first had her twins, they came and stayed with us.” That experiment was brief. “They weren’t getting along, they had an outburst with my son.” Walter and Monette had been married 5 years at that time and their son was 5. Asiatae told her father that her half-brother was stinky. “She tried to drag him into the shower,” Walter recalled later.
When her twins were delivered by ceasarean, Asiatae said the doctor botched the surgery and that was the start of her physical and mental degradation. “I started seeing visions. Like spirits and things like that,” she said. “Not all day long, but time to time I would see something and it would be a spirit.” Asiatae testified, “Well I just coped with it. I never had any kind of mental prognosis or anything like that.” She said, “I just thought it was the result of the surgery.”
Sometimes Asiatae lived with her mom in Las Vegas. “We got along. It’s just, my mom, she likes her own space.” Asiatae went back and forth. “I was homeless at the shelter — I never had to live on the streets — maybe up to three months. And then my mom would let me come back home.” Asiatae explained that the last time she was at the shelter, a man hit her, “He tried to attack me. I went to my mother’s home and asked her if I could stay and she said no, and that I should go back to the shelter. After that I got upset and said, ‘No, I am not going back to the shelter,’ and then I called my dad and he said I could stay.”
Did you have to get Monette’s permission? “She was in the background, on the telephone.”
Walter said that when his daughter Asiate phoned him, his understanding was, “She was living on the street.” His response was, “What happened? What’s going on?” Asiatae wanted to come to California. “I told her I had to talk to my wife. I did. Monette wanted to know for how long, I said she would stay with Latrice until she could get her own place.”
Asiatae was at her father’s home for just a couple of days, and then her cousin Latrice picked her up. She stayed there three weeks. “I got along with Latrice,” Asiatae insisted. “She said that maybe I shouldn’t stay, we had a discrepancy about paying rent, she kept changing it up, we had a difference of agreement about paying rent, and I didn’t do things around the house that she asked, like smoking cigarettes and leaving shoes by the door, stuff like that, so I just said I was going to live with my dad, so.”
Why did you leave Latrice’s? “She was starting to nit pick on little things, like, ‘Leave your shoes at the door,’ and I would forget.” Asiatae giggled at the memory when she spoke from the witness box. “She did say I could stay, and then she said she changed her mind, and I called my dad and I told him I was coming back to the house.”
“How long were you then at your dad’s?”
“A few days, a couple days maybe.”
Asiatae said that during that month or so she was in Escondido, she did not have any visions. “I was just fine. I was just thinking about what I was going to do, like going to school. No voices. I wasn’t really going through anything. I was with my dad so I wasn’t really feeling depressed, which is when I would hear voices.”
Walter said he gave Asiatae his son’s room. She had that room all to herself, and his son slept in Walter’s bedroom. His wife Monette commonly fell asleep in her favorite chair and then came to sleep with her husband when she wanted.
“I blacked out”
For more than three years, Asiatae stuck to her story that she came home and found Monette bloody in her chair. But in the year 2017, she changed her story to one of self-defense. It was in June 2017 that she first admitted stabbing Monette.
Asiatae said she was still in bed that morning, when “that friend of Monette’s” (Ron) came over. She knew her father had already left for work. “He leaves for work at the crack of dawn,” Asiatae testified during her murder trial. “So I’m laying there and he comes to my bedroom door and he is staring at me with a cold stare.” She said Ron did not knock, “He just opens the door. And Monette yells out, ‘Rape her!’ And he said, ‘What about Walter?’ And she said, ‘Kill him!’ And then Ron closed her bedroom door, according to Asiatae’s testimony.
The prosecutor questioned Asiatae about this exchange on cross-examination; she clarified, “She told Ron, ‘Kill them. Kill ‘em.’ I didn’t think it was just about my dad, I thought it was the both of us.”
Asiatae said she was upset and did not have a phone to call her father, so “I got up and got dressed. And went to the store.” She said she hoped to buy a cell phone at the corner stores.
Asiatae said that when she returned home, “He was gone.” The prosecutor asked her, “If you felt threatened, why didn’t you call police? She answered, “Because none of their business.”
Asiatae said she went to her bedroom “And [Monette] calls me into the living room.... And then she asked me if I heard what she said about my dad. And I told her I didn’t know what she was talking about.” Asiatae said she was standing near the chair where Monette was. “She comes at me with a knife.”Asiatae said Monette stabbed at her, but the blade went harmlessly between her fingers.
Asiatae said she got the knife away from Monette, and she could only remember stabbing her the first two times, “And then after that I blacked out.”
Asiatae denied going into the kitchen to get the second knife, after the first knife broke off in Monette’s body.
She did remember that she went into the bathroom to wash her bloody hands. “Yes, ‘cause I was a mess.”
Cops found her bloody sweater —the sleeves were still wet — under her coat in her bedroom. “I didn’t know there was blood on my face, so I just wanted to wash my hands. My hands, that was the only thing I saw at the time,” Asiatae testified.
The prosecutor wanted to know, “Why didn’t you tell your dad when you phoned him, that Monette came at you with a knife?”
“My dad wasn’t there. He doesn’t know Monette was going through these feelings about us. He was with Monette a really long time. I was really looking for love from my father. I didn’t want to do anything to diminish those feelings.”
“Why didn’t you tell the police or paramedics that she attacked you?'
“Because I was scared to talk to anybody, and my father was really the most important.”
Why did you wait more than four years to tell anyone that Monette attacked you first?
“I was feeling like a lot of different feelings. I don’t know, I was so aggravated.”
During her murder trial, while she was in the witness box telling the jury what she could remember from that day, Asiatae said, “I couldn’t believe I had to go through this.”
The prosecutor asked her, “So you are a victim?”
She replied, “That’s how I feel, yes.”
In his closing statement, prosecutor Matt Greco told the jury, “This was a cold-blooded ambush.”
The jury of eight women and four men heard evidence for two weeks, deliberated a full day, and then declared Asiatae Robinette Bell, 39, guilty of second-degree murder on May 25, 2018. She will be sentenced Aug 20 2018, at 8:30 am by the same judge who heard the trial, Honorable Harry Elias.