BASS LAKE — Day two of the murder trial of George Taylor-Windsor got underway this morning at Bass Lake Superior Court with testimony from the first people on the scene, and from the fourth man in the vehicle at the time of the incident.
Taylor-Windsor, 26, is charged in the Nov. 15, 2016, death of Jessica Nelson, 23, of Foresthill, Calif.
He is also charged with attempted murder in the stabbing of Reid Kallenberg, the driver of the Ford F250 pickup in which they were all riding, sending him to the hospital with multiple stab wounds.
The incident occurred just before 11 p.m. on Highway 41 near River Falls Road north of Oakhurst.
Deputy Jeff Thomas, a Patrol Sergeant for the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, was the first law enforcement officer at scene, and was initially notified that the incident was a traffic accident.
Today he testified that when he arrived at the scene shortly after 11 p.m., ambulance personnel were already there and informed him that there was a deceased person inside the vehicle.
He also made contact with Reid Kallenberg, who had been stabbed multiple times and was on the gurney being loaded into the ambulance.
Sgt. Thomas testified that his interaction with Kallenberg was brief due to the extent of the man’s injuries and the need to transport him for medical treatment immediately. He described Kallenberg as angry, panicked and upset.
The sergeant immediately directed law enforcement and firefighters to stage at either end of the accident, and set it up as a crime scene to preserve evidence, barring entrance to anyone who was not emergency personnel. Highway 41 was closed in both directions throughout the night.
Called to testify for the prosecution by Senior Deputy District Attorney John Baker, Michael Ross — the man who was in the passenger seat of the truck on the night of the stabbing — has recently been in custody in Florida on an unrelated matter. He was transported to Madera County to be a witness in this trial, and was escorted into the courtroom in orange jail wear, shackled hand and foot.
Ross testified that he had been in the area since early November and was working for Mowbray’s Tree Service, staying in a chalet at The Pines Resort which was provided by his employer. Ross says he met Taylor-Windsor when the defendant asked for a cigarette in the parking lot an Oakhurst hotel just two days before the incident.
The two struck up a conversation and the defendant told Ross he needed a job and a place to stay. Ross testified that he had also just met Kallenberg and Nelson about two days earlier, and he allowed all three to stay at his chalet at The Pines while they applied for a job with his employer.
On the day of the fatal incident, Ross says he worked all day, but came back to the chalet to find that the group had been drinking and smoking marijuana all day. He denied any knowledge of Nelson’s alleged intravenous drug use, or that he had seen Nelson or Kallenberg using drugs, but said the room was filled with pot smoke.
During the preliminary hearing on Nov. 29, 2016, Kallenberg admitted to “ingesting meth” in the hours before the group left for town that evening, and also to smoking marijuana.
Ross told the court that he suggested that they all go to the casino in Coarsegold, but Kallenberg had objected, saying he didn’t have any gas money. Ross said he handed Kallenberg $20 for gas, and they drove down to the gas station at Bass Lake.
Ross testified that Kallenberg was arguing with his girlfriend Jessica Nelson at the gas station and backed into a soda machine, then pulled forward and headed toward Oakhurst.
Ross said that the defendant had previously confided that he was having difficulties with the mother of his child and wanted to speak with that child on the phone.
On the trip down the mountain that evening, Ross said that Taylor-Windsor kept trying to call the mother, but she had told him to call back, and was now not answering.
“The defendant was very contradictory about the whole thing,” Ross testified, “saying one thing and then saying something totally different. He seemed angry and paranoid.”
Ross said that as they turned left onto Highway 41, Nelson buckled her seat belt and Kallenberg said something to Taylor-Windsor about the light of his cell phone impairing his driving.
“And then George just suddenly started swinging,” said Ross, who noted that he didn’t see a knife, only the motion that he demonstrated for the jury as a type of windmill action.
When asked if Kallenberg or Nelson had done anything at all to the defendant before the swinging started, Ross replied, “No. He just started swinging and the truck started swerving and I tried to grab George and then I just jumped out of the truck, and it hit the side of the mountain. Then George got out and took off.”
Ross testified that he jumped out while the truck was still moving because he was afraid they would go over the cliff, and he was unable to stop Taylor-Windsor from attacking the other two.
When asked if Nelson was facing the defendant at any time before or after the incident began, and he said no, “she was screaming and hunching over forward.”
Once he jumped from the truck and hit the pavement, Ross said he saw that the truck had crashed, and ran down to find Nelson unresponsive and Kallenberg yelling, “Get Help!”
Ross said he flagged down a car coming south toward the accident, and told them to call 911 because his phone had no reception — then he walked away. He said he began walking back toward The Pines, and was picked up by a man who called himself the “Cowboy Preacher.” Ross admitted that he told the man his name was “Matt.”
As to why he left the scene, Ross said, “I’ve never had good luck with law enforcement and I was scared and panicked. I didn’t know if I would get charged with something. I saw Jessica’s body and I knew she was no longer with us.”
Ross was located by deputies several hours later at his chalet, and fabricated a story that he had gotten out of the pickup after Kallenberg had backed into the soda machine at the gas station in Bass Lake — a story he later recanted.
The prosecutor asked Ross if he had seen Kallenberg or Nelson attack the defendant prior to the stabbing, and he was adamant in his answer.
“No!” he said. “I was freaked out. I’ve never seen anybody do anything like that. It was cowardly, not human, not like a normal man. His eyes were just blank, like there was nobody home.”
On cross examination, defense attorney Craig Collins called into question the witness’s veracity, getting him to admit that he had made inquiries into whether giving information in this and other cases would help him with his current legal situation.
Ross is currently charged with False Verification of Ownership and providing false identification to a pawnbroker. He was arrested in West Palm Beach, Fla., less than three weeks after the fatal stabbing in Oakhurst.
Also on the stand today was Sierra Ambulance Paramedic Michee Baggett, who testified that he had examined Taylor-Windsor for signs of a puncture wound.
In her opening statement yesterday, defense attorney Katie Reed asserted that Jessica Nelson had pointed a gun at the defendant and stabbed him with a syringe, forcing him to defend himself. Baggett told the court he had seen no signs of a puncture wound, but Reed questioned whether he was aware of the “significant” tattoo on her client’s right side which may have made such a finding difficult.
Baggett testified that he had performed hundreds of injections in his line of work, and knows what a puncture wound looks like.
The trial will continue on Wednesday, and is expected to lat 2-3 weeks. Taylor-Windsor faces 30 years to life if convicted.