Hinting at a likely defense strategy, an attorney for one of the half brothers accused of strangling and dismembering their mother said Tuesday that they were physically and emotionally abused by her.
"They had a very tumultuous relationship," attorney John M. Kremer said outside the Santa Ana courtroom after the brothers' arraignments on murder charges were continued until Feb. 14. "I will explore that fully."
Kremer did not provide details about the alleged abuse at the hands of Jane Marie Bautista, 41. His statements came after the sons were charged in their mother's Jan. 14 slaying.
Jason Victor Bautista, 20, and Matthew Montejo, 15, allegedly reprised a scene from the TV series "The Sopranos" by chopping the head and hands off their mother's body before dumping it in a ravine in the Santa Ana Mountains.
Police said the body parts were kept in plastic bags inside a duffel bag in a closet of the family's apartment.
Bautista is being held on $1-million bail at the Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana. Montejo is in Juvenile Hall.
Kremer, who represents Bautista, suggested that public opinion about the gruesome acts will turn in the brothers' favor when all the facts are disclosed about their upbringing. Kremer described Bautista, a Cal State San Bernardino student, as a bright young man who was close to and protective of his brother. Bautista was helping to support his unemployed mother by working as a hotel clerk and hopes to become a lawyer.
"I think facts will surface, statements will be taken from different witnesses, defenses will be forthcoming, and I think you're going to see a shift in the way the public perceives this case," Kremer said.
Kremer noted the case of the Menendez brothers in raising the possibility of parental abuse as a defense strategy. The Menendezes said they were abused by their father. Both were convicted of murdering their mother and father and are serving life in prison without parole.
"Some [parental abuse cases] have been successful, and some haven't," he said.
In Tuesday's hearing, the brothers were charged but did not enter pleas. Through most of the hearing, Bautista stood behind a screen in an enclosed holding area, keeping his head down and his hands in his pockets.
Montejo stood between his lawyers and in front of the judge with his ankles and wrists cuffed, trying but failing to make eye contact with his brother.
Prosecutors intend to try Montejo as an adult.
Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Murray said prosecutors have not decided whether the boys will be tried together or whether the death penalty will be pursued against Bautista. Attorney Stephen Klarich, who represents Montejo, said he will fight to have his client tried as a juvenile. In California, minors cannot be executed.
The brothers' lawyers were hired by their mother's family. Nellie Osborne, their maternal grandmother, flew in from Winthrop Harbor, Ill., to attend the hearing. She did not speak to reporters.
"She was trembling. She was very upset," Klarich said, referring to the grandmother's reaction when she was told of the allegations. "Her grandsons are accused of killing her daughter. She has a lot of mixed emotions."
There is a chance that the case will move to Riverside County, where the crimes are believed to have been committed.
Orange County Dist. Atty Tony Rackauckas planned to meet today with Riverside County Dist. Atty. Grover Trask to resolve the question of jurisdiction.