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Solvang Animal Rescue Team Operator Testifies in Own Defense at Criminal Trial

A Solvang animal rescue operator took the witness stand in her own defense for 10 misdemeanor charges on Thursday during a Santa Maria Superior Court criminal trial where her crying testimony Thursday contrasted with recordings of her yelling expletives at neighbors.

Julia Di Sieno, 57, is on trial for stalking, making criminal threats, violating an order to surrender firearms, possessing a deadly weapon, contempt of court, assault with a deadly weapon and battery.

Most of the allegations involved her neighbors who live adjacent to the Carriage Drive property where Di Sieno operates Animal Rescue Team. 

For the past two days, jurors have seen and heard recordings of Di Sieno howling like a coyote, shouting at neighbors and yelling obscenities.

Thursday afternoon, Deputy Public Defender Kevin Dubrall called Di Sieno as the first witness for the defense, asking about complaints neighbors Mary and Richard Nohr had about the animal rescue’s operations.

Di Sieno claimed at least 20 complaints have been filed with various county and state agencies.

The defendant said the bright lights shining on the Nohrs' house served as a countermeasures due to the video camera they pointed at her home. 

The Nohrs, who had said cameras were aimed at their own property, earlier testified the defendant had bright lights shining at their home all night, routinely played loud music, and shouted obscenities and more.

Dubral also played audio of Di Sieno’s December arraignment hearing before Judge James Iwasko in an effort to show the defendant, then represented by a different attorney, was not aware she needed to turn over her firearms. 

But Deputy District Attorney Steven Li presented a copy of the criminal protective order and its terms, asking if the paperwork was given to her during the Dec. 22 hearing.

“I believe so,” Di Sieno responded.

Several weeks after the judge issued the criminal protective order that called for Di Sieno to turn over her firearms, sheriff’s deputies showed up at her home to seize multiple weapons, including a California-compliant AR-15, a shotgun, a semi-automatic pistol, a Glock 9-mm pistol, and a .357 revolver, and ammunition from her house.

During the search, they also seized a law enforcement baton she illegally possessed. Di Sieno testified her ex-husband had left the weapon behind. 

The defendant claimed she kept weapons because of murders, blamed on the Original Night Stalker, decades ago in Goleta, where the suspect escaped through her backyard.

Di Sieno added that she and her mom were witnesses in the case “which terrified me through the rest of my life.”

At the end of the morning break, Judge James Rigali told Di Sieno she was not allowed to record proceedings after a deputy reported the defendant appeared to be using her cellphone voice recorder. 

Earlier Thursday, another neighbor, Megan Cullen, said she did not oppose the rescue operation, but objected to the release of coyotes in her backyard, with a day care center and Alzheimer’s care residence nearby.

She also recounted a conversation when Di Sieno allegedly told Cullen, “I shouldn’t be afraid of the animals at her place, I should be afraid of the guns there.”

When Dubral asked Cullen about Di Sieno saying she believed the Nohrs had poisoned her dog, the witness responded, “She didn’t say she believed, she said they had done it.”

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Deputy James Kurowski testified about a 2016 complaint from Di Sieno who claimed her dog has been poisoned, but the law enforcement officer said the canine did not have the typical symptoms of poisoning. 

“When she had spoken to the deputies, she said if we did not respond, she would be taking things into her own hand,” Kurowski said.

The defense attorney also called several witnesses to talk about Di Sieno’s character as they called her compassionate, caring, friendly and more.

Under questioning from the prosecuting attorney about allegations the defendant called the neighbor a “(expletive) whore,” Ojai resident Anthony Masiel responded, “That would surprise me.”

Near the end of the day, Rigali told the jury of seven men and five women they should get the case on Friday to begin deliberations after hearing from two more defense witnesses, any prosecution rebuttal and closing arguments from the attorneys.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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