Testimony begins in murder trial | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Testimony begins in murder trial

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Testimony began yesterday in the trial of a woman accused of killing her 9-year-old daughter during a police standoff at a South Lake Tahoe campground.

Lisa Platz is charged with the first degree murder of Rebbeca Aramburo. Authorities found the two inside a bloody tent with James Csucsai, Platz’s boyfriend. Rebbeca died after having her throat slashed.

El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy, who hasn’t tried a case since 1994, didn’t show any signs of rust. He sauntered, crouched and reconstructed events during opening statements and questioned his first three witnesses.

He described the events that unfolded as a “tragic story” beginning with Rebbeca caught in a vicious custody battle involving Platz and Jose Aramburo, her biological father.

At the end of his opening statement — after he showed jurors pictures of the slain girl, the large military knife suspected of being the murder weapon and a minutelong recording of Csucsai during the standoff — Lacy gave his theory for Platz allegedly killing her daughter.

Csucsai committed suicide while inside his jail cell in April 2002.

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“I believe Lisa Platz willfully, deliberately and premeditated (the) murder (of) her daughter Rebbeca Aramburo so she would not have to go back to her father,” Lacy said.

Public Defender Rick Meyer said evidence will prove his client’s innocence.

“The (district attorney) has made my case better than I could have,” Meyer said in his opening statement.

Meyer described Platz, dressed in a tan jacket and pants with her brown hair tied back, as a loving mother who just wanted to keep her relationship with her daughter.

Former Army Staff Sgt. Csucsai, on the other hand hand, was a “tortured soul who thought the world was against him,” Meyer said.

“James Csucsai attempted to kill Rebbeca and Lisa, and in lightning-type fashion, got on Rebbeca and slit her throat,” Meyer said.

During the trial, expected to last six to eight weeks, Meyer said he will provide evidence, along with an admission of guilt, that a mentally ill Csucsai murdered Rebbeca.

For his first witness in El Dorado County Superior Court, Lacy had Rebecca’s father, Jose Aramburo, paint his history with Platz. The two met in Bellingham, Wash., in a tavern where Platz worked. Rebbeca was born in April 1992.

Aramburo testified that after the couple had a falling out, Platz took his daughter and went to Alaska for five years. He said he had not heard from his daughter during that time, but attempted to contact her.

Aramburo then met his wife, Angelina Haggard, who helped him get Rebbeca back after several court hearings. In December 1999, a judge in Alaska granted custody of Rebbeca to Aramburo.

The father sullenly described his daughter as a bright and happy child who received excellent marks in school and loved going to the zoo.

During a legal visitation in April 2001, Platz and Csucsai took Rebbeca but did not return her to a Bellingham McDonald’s where they were supposed to drop off the child, Aramburo testified. The three were found two months later in San Diego.

It was then that Platz’s visitation rights were revoked.

Haggard testified about the morning in August 2001 when Platz and Csucsai, armed with handguns, took Rebbeca.

“Mr. Csucsai said to me, ‘and if (Aramburo) comes looking for (Rebbeca) I’ll put a bullet in her head’,” Haggard said.

The three were discovered a month later at Campground by the Lake on Sept. 21, 2001, by South Lake Tahoe police Officer Rob Heindl, a trained negotiator. After calling for reinforcements, Heindl testified that he approached the tent and made contact with the occupants.

Csucsai did the bulk of the talking, Platz had a surprised look on her face and Rebbeca was crying, Heindl said, adding that Platz stated they were ready to die.

“She was very adamant,” the Heindl said.

“Lisa Platz said Rebbeca is prepared to die as well,” he added.

Moments later, Heindl heard Rebbeca screaming and saw her kicking the walls of the tent. Her voice became muffled and never heard again, Heindl said.

During the cross-examination, Meyer grilled the girl’s father and stepmother on Rebbeca’s demeanor and remarks she reportedly made about wanting to be with her mom. He picked at details about their descriptions of his client’s reportedly unsavory behavior.

Platz, who cried softly during the beginning of the trial, offered information to Meyer in whispers. She’s also charged with kidnapping with special circumstances. If convicted on her charges she faces a maximum of life in prison. She’s been held without bail since her arrest.

Lacy will resume his questioning of Heindl today at 9 a.m.

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com