Prosecutor: Vega acted in defiance not defense

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Warren County teen on trial for murder in the death of her stepmother was released from the Youth Detention Center less than a week before the fatal shooting and was headed back to Youth Court the day she shot her stepmother in the face with a high-powered rifle.

“This was not an act of desperation but defiance,” Assistant District Attorney Lane Campbell told jurors during opening statements Tuesday.

Tyla Vega, now 17, was held in the Youth Detention Center from April 18, 2011, until April 26, 2011, when she was released to her family, Campbell said.

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Four days later, she was accused of stealing and wrecking a family car.

“The Saturday before the murder, Tyla Vega takes the family sedan in the middle of the night. She goes for a joyride and wrecks the car,” Campbell said.

Her stepmother, Michelle Vega, called the sheriff’s department when she saw the vehicle, and officers advised that she take Tyla Vega to Youth Court again on May 2, 2011, the day she was shot and killed,  Campbell said.

Michelle Vega was found dead in the kitchen of the family home at 100 Jones Road with a bullet wound to the face from a .270-caliber hunting rifle, Campbell said

“Tyla Vega left her stepmother in a pool of blood in her home,” Campbell said.

After the shooting, Tyla Vega, who was 14 at the time, took the family’s Dodge Durango and fled to Greenville where she was arrested six days later by the U.S. Marshal Service.

Defense attorney Marshall Sanders portrayed the teenage Vega as a victim of physical and emotional abuse from her father and stepmother.

“She has been in hell for years and that’s not her fault,” Sanders said. “That’s the fault of the grown-ups who are around her.”

Sanders painted a verbal picture of Tyla Vega’s home life by describing her father Jason Vega as “a dope addict” and “criminal,” before an objection by District Attorney Ricky Smith that was sustained by Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick.

Tyla Vega was taken away from her biological mother, who Sanders described as a “prostitute, stripper and addict,” by the state when she was 5 and “as a last-minute resort they asked Jason if he wanted to take her,” Sanders said.

Tyla, whose mother is black and father is white, was excluded from events with Michelle Vega’s family because of her race, Sanders claimed.

Michelle Vega’s son, Wesley White, who discovered his mother’s dead body, testified that Vega was never excluded from family events and that two of his aunts have biracial children.

White also said that in the eight or nine years that he and Tyla Vega lived in the same home he had never seen or heard any signs of abuse and she never told him of any abuse.

On the Sunday before the fatal shooting, White said, he was cleaning the gun used to kill his mother when Tyla Vega inquired about the weapon, though she had never shown any interest in the rifle before.

“She asked me to show her how it worked,” he said.

Sanders contended that Tyla Vega picked up the gun in self defense after being confronted by Michelle Vega.

“This girl has been so psychologically beaten down … the child picked up a gun with no intent of killing the woman, hoping she would back down, and the gun discharged,” he said.

Trial continued this morning in Warren County Circuit Court. Vega is expected to take the stand sometime this week on her behalf, Sanders said Tuesday.