By Bay City News Service
OAKLAND — A judge Thursday denied a defense motion to exclude some of the evidence against Giselle Esteban, who is charged with murder for the death of nursing student Michelle Le, on the ground it was gathered during an unreasonable search.
The ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson means that the trial of Esteban, a 28-year-old Union City woman, on a charge that she murdered Le, a 26-year-old San Mateo woman who disappeared on May 27, 2011, remains on track to begin on Sept. 17.
In a quirk of fate, that's the that the decomposed body of Le, who was attending Samuel Merritt University in Oakland and was last seen alive at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hayward, was found in a remote area between Pleasanton and Sunol.
Esteban, who attended high school with Le in San Diego, was — before Le's body was found — based on DNA evidence and cellphone records.
According to the transcript of grand jury proceedings in the case last December, prosecutors believe that Esteban stalked and murdered Le because she blamed Le for wrecking her relationship with her daughter's father, Scott Marasigan.
Hayward police Inspector Fraser Ritchie, the lead investigator in the case, testified Thursday that he and five other officers went to Esteban's apartment in Union City late on the night of May 28, 2011, the day after Le disappeared, because eight family members, classmates and friends of Le had told them that Le had "a tumultuous relationship" with Esteban.
Ritchie said the family members and acquaintances also said Esteban had been sending "threatening text messages" to Le and that disappearing was "out of Le's character" because she was a reliable person.
He said one of the people police talked to was Marsigan, who he said was a platonic friend of Le and the father of Esteban's daughter.
According to the grand jury transcript, the daughter was born on Oct. 31, 2005, but Marasigan later broke up with Esteban and was awarded full custody of the girl in September 2010.
Esteban gave birth to a second child the week before Thanksgiving last year but the name of the father of the child hasn't been disclosed and Marasigan has said he's not the father.
Ritchie said Esteban was "calm and cooperative" when officers came to her apartment shortly before midnight on May 28, 2011, but "she seemed frustrated" when he asked her questions about Le.
He said he ultimately handcuffed Esteban and took her to the Hayward police station for further questions because she had given contradictory statements about the time that she went to the Kaiser facility in Hayward on May 27, 2011.
Esteban's lawyer, Andrea Auer, argued that Esteban's statements to police on the morning of May 29, 2011, should be thrown out because officers placed her in "unlawful detention" by climbing over a locked security gate to come to her apartment late at night.
Auer said it was "an intimidating experience" for Esteban to be confronted by six armed officers late at night and said some of the questions they asked her were "interrogative in nature."
However, prosecutor Jason Sjoberg said Esteban's interactions with police were "very clearly a consensual encounter" and she never asked officers to leave her apartment.
Rolefson agreed that the initial interview of Esteban "was not a detention."
The judge said that in interviewing Esteban, Hayward police were doing what they were expected to do, which was "talking to anybody and everybody" about Le.
"The police conduct was justified," Rolefson said.
Hayward police released Esteban after they interviewed her on May 29, 2011, and didn't arrest her until Sept. 7.
An Alameda County criminal grand jury indicted Esteban on a murder charge on Dec. 14 at the end of a three-day hearing. Prosecutors sought the indictment to bypass a preliminary hearing and speed up Esteban's trial.
Lead prosecutor Butch Ford told the grand jury in December, "We intend to prove that Giselle Esteban stalked Michelle to the Kaiser facility in Hayward, attacked her in the parking lot, threw her body into Michelle's car and drove her away from Hayward, ultimately out to the Pleasanton-Sunol Valley Road area, and ultimately, through sort of a makeshift grave, buried Michelle's body out there."
Fellow prosecutor Robert Warren told the grand jury that text messages that Esteban sent to Marasigan "show that this hatred, this obsession (about Michelle Le) that was within Miss Esteban was continuous from November of 2010 until May 27, 2011."
Referring to Marasigan, Warren said, "No matter how many times he denied any relationship between himself and Miss Le, Miss Esteban refused to believe him."
Warren said it's not entirely clear how Le was killed but circumstantial evidence such as Le's hair and blood indicate that Esteban assaulted her in the parking lot at the Kaiser facility and then placed Le into her own car, in which Le continued to bleed.
Ford said after Thursday's hearing that jury selection and pretrial motions in Esteban's case will take about two weeks and opening statements probably will be presented in early October.