An elder with a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation was being evasive when testifying during a Murrieta man’s trial on murder charges, a judge ruled this morning.
Judge Timothy Freer’s ruling allows the prosecutor to ask leading questions of Jose Cespedes, with the Murrieta-based Spanish Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, when he resumes his testimony this afternoon.
Prior to the trial, Cespedes attempted to avoid testifying in the trial of Kelle Lee Jarka, a 41-year-old Murrieta man charged with murder in connection with the April 2008 death of his wife, Isabelle.
Freer denied Cespedes request for the protections of the clergy-penitent privilege after learning Isabelle Jarka invited Cespedes — in his capacity as a friend and not a clergyman– over to her home on the night before she was killed.
Isabelle Jarka, 40, was found bludgeoned to death on the floor of her Tamarisk Street home. Kelle Jarka called police at about 8:45 a.m. on April 28, 2008, and reported finding his home burglarized and his wife dead.
Cespedes testified Isabelle Jarka wanted to talk to him after she learned a family friend recently died of AIDS and Kelle Jarka kept the friend’s illness a secret.
Deputy District Attorney Burke Strunsky asked Cespedes if an elder had a duty to report to other elders upon learning that a congregation member has AIDS. Cespedes initial responses did not completely answer the question so Strunsky asked again.
“So the fact that Kelle didn’t tell other elders was in violation of his duties as an elder?” Strunsky asked.
“That’s a choice he made,’ Cespedes replied.
Moments later, at about 11:15 a.m., Freer let the jury leave early for lunch and a brief hearing was held to determine if Cespedes could be deemed a hostile witness and the prosecution given more leeway in asking questions.
“The witness was being somewhat evasive in his answers,” Freer said. “It’s apparent from his demeanor, and his response to the questions, Mr. Cespedes is not necessarily answering questions in a forthright manner.”
Testimony is expected to resume this afternoon at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley. If convicted of murder and commission of the crime for financial gain, Jarka faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Was the family friend a witness?