Tape of standoff played for jurors
February 27, 2003
Moans, screams and a tent ripping were the sounds on a chilling, 20-minute tape that was recorded during the last moments of a nine-hour standoff and played for jurors in the Lisa Platz murder trial.
Platz, who faces life in prison for the fall 2001 kidnap and murder of her 9-year-old daughter, Rebbeca Aramburo, was heard whimpering above the pleas of boyfriend James Csucsai who was busy talking with an FBI negotiator.
Both Platz and Csucsai were weak from blood loss caused by knife wounds. Unbeknown to law enforcement, Rebbeca, laid out in a corner of the tent, was already dead from a knife slash to the throat.
“James, tell Rebbeca to come out,” said Special Agent Chris Campion. “Tell Rebbeca to go out.”
“I don’t think she can,” Csucsai said, breathing heavily. “Where are you? Rebbeca?”
“I want you to tell Rebbeca to come out,” Campion said.
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“Rebbeca?” Csucsai asked. “Rebbeca? Rebbeca?”
“She’s hurt,” Platz responded between whimpers.
“Rebbeca? Rebbeca?” Csucsai repeated.
“James, you have to have her come out,” Campion said.
“Don’t move me,” Platz said. “I can’t feel my legs.”
The interaction between the three continued as background noises of a SWAT van creeping toward the tent and a SWAT member using a utility knife to cut a tent wall were heard.
Csucsai, who later committed suicide in jail, did the bulk of the talking. Platz was giving additional comments, such as, “Help me. Help me. (James is) not doing very good. My arm’s bleeding. My legs. I’m bleeding.” And, “I’m sorry.”
Platz, holding a crumpled tissue in her right hand, walked with a limp out of the courtroom after requesting to be excused during the tape. Campion sat at the witness stand. One juror wiped her eyes.
El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy called a retired South Lake Tahoe police sergeant, a fingerprint analyst and two child custody investigators to the stand Wednesday. But it was Campion, a trained negotiator, who received the most questioning at El Dorado County Superior Court.
After introducing himself to the tent occupants, Campion testified that he and Csucsai formed a quick bond that lasted five hours. Csucsai quickly calmed down after venting his frustrations with his ex-wife, the Alaskan court system and Platz losing custody of Rebbeca.
Platz, who only said, “I have nothing to say to you,” refused to talk, despite attempts by Campion.
After his description of negotiations and the storming of the tent, Campion said authorities thought Platz’s girl-like whimpers belonged to Rebbeca.
Richard Meyer, El Dorado County Public Defender, questioned Campion on Csucsai’s comments.
“If he had his guns it would all be over. Do you remember (Csucsai) making that statement?” Meyer asked.
“I do remember that statement,” Campion answered.
On the witness stand for nearly four hours, Campion looked at other reports, including that of Officer Rebecca Inman who helped with negotiations, to refresh his memory of events.
“I do remember being told the last thing we should do is have a female negotiator,” Campion said, adding “I do remember that family members told Officer Inman he could become angry and violent.”
In a brief, light-hearted moment, Campion told Meyer he was recollecting more details while sitting in the stand.
“Does it help me?” Meyer asked, amid laughter from the jury.
“Does it help one of us?” Lacy asked.
After Meyer finished his initial questioning, Lacy asked if Platz was also considering suicide. Campion affirmed she was, based on information from a fellow agent, and Csucsai saying, “We’re contemplating about committing suicide.”
At the tail end of the testimony, Lacy called Jeanne Nay and Thomas McNeely, two custody investigators from Alaska and Washington, respectively.
The two checked the living standards, stability and emotional status of Platz and Jose Aramburo, Rebbeca’s father who filed for and received sole custody of Rebbeca in 1999.
Both testified that Aramburo had a preferable living arrangement in Washington for Rebbeca compared to Platz moving Rebbeca around several states and schools.
During the investigation process, Nay and McNeely said Platz vehemently refused to accept and expressed confusion of how Aramburo, estranged from his daughter for several years, could achieve custody.
— E-mail William Ferchland at email@example.com