A witness in Bass Lake court on Tuesday testified he managed to escape an alleged attack that killed a woman north of Oakhurst last November, and described the accused murderer’s actions as “cowardly” and “not human.”
George Taylor-Windsor, 26, is charged with the murder of 23-year-old Jessica Nelson and attempted murder of Reid Kallenberg on Nov. 15, when prosecutors say he became enraged over being ignored by the mother of his child and went on a furious stabbing spree inside a pickup truck.
Michael Ross entered Tuesday’s hearing in a red jumpsuit, a result of his transfer from Florida where he faces unrelated criminal theft charges. Ross was riding in the front passenger seat, with Nelson, of a Ford F250 driven by Kallenberg while Taylor-Windsor rode in the back on that fateful November night.
Ross said he had met the three only days previously. Working as a ground foreman of a crew contracted through Mowbray’s Tree Service, Ross said he eventually offered Taylor-Windsor a job. Kallenberg and possibly Nelson were also seeking work in the industry, Ross said.
Earlier evidence showed Taylor-Windsor had recently moved from Wyoming to California, while Kallenberg was from Auburn and Nelson from Foresthill.
As the group traveled to Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino to gamble, which Ross said was his idea, Kallenberg asked Taylor-Windsor, who was trying unsuccessfully to get in touch with his child’s mother, to dim his phone.
“I remember clearly the phone lighting his face,” Ross said of Taylor-Windsor, later describing his facial expression as “blank, like there was nobody home.” “Then George started swinging.”
Ross testified he didn’t see a knife in Taylor-Windsor’s hand as he took “multiple swings” at Nelson. Pathologist testimony at previous hearings, and prosecution’s opening statement Monday, indicated Nelson died from 11 stab wounds and other injuries. Kallenberg was also stabbed several times and suffered punctured lungs and fractured ribs.
Through questioning by lead prosecutor John Baker, with assistance from co-counsel Paul Hornick - both of the Madera County District Attorney’s Office - Ross said he never saw Nelson or Kallenberg attack Taylor-Windsor. He also said he never saw a gun or ammunition.
Taylor-Windsor’s defense has claimed Kallenberg pointed a gun at Taylor-Windsor, and that Nelson injected him with a syringe, which forced him to strike out in self defense.
Ross managed to jump out of the truck as it slowed down, out of fears the vehicle was going to go over a cliff near Highway 41 and River Falls Road, he said. The truck instead swerved and hit a rocky hillside.
Ross said he ran up to the truck and saw “someone still swinging,” though he wasn’t able to tell if it was Taylor-Windsor. He said he saw Taylor-Windsor get out of the truck, and run down the road.
Ross then left the scene to head back to the chalet at Bass Lake, and got a ride from someone called the “Cowboy Preacher.” When asked why he didn’t help, or work out a way to phone authorities, he said he was “freaked out.”
“I’m still freaked out about that night,” Ross said. “I’ve never seen anything like it ... it was cowardly. Not human. Not normal.”
Craig Collins of Madera firm Richard A. Ciummo & Associates, representing Taylor-Windsor with co-counsel Katie Reed, began cross examination by pressing Ross on the motivations for his testimony.
Ross admitted he did ask the Madera County District Attorney’s Office if his testimony would be used to help his criminal proceedings in Florida, which was unsuccessful. When asked how he felt about that, Ross got testy with Collins.
“I’m upset about being in a cell for a week without a shower or a phone call,” Ross said. “That’s what I’m getting mad about if you’d like to know, sir.”
Ross has previously been convicted of attempted burglary and assault with a deadly weapon.
When Collins asked about not seeing a knife, Ross provided more details.
“I didn’t see a knife, and in fact I was shocked there was a knife at all,” Ross said.
The case continues at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow inside the Bass Lake Division of Madera County Superior Court.
Taylor-Windsor, if convicted, faces 37 years to life in prison. He is being held in Madera County Jail on $3.1 million bail.