MARTINEZ -- On Monday morning, a nervous mother took the witness stand at the preliminary trial of her son, charged with murder. By Monday afternoon, in large part because of her testimony, her son was set free by a Contra Costa judge.
Kyle Navarro, who turned 21 Sunday, was ordered released by Judge Charles Burch to wild cheers and applause of friends and family members in the courtroom. The three-day preliminary trial was to determine whether Navarro and Michael McQueen, both West County residents, should stand trial for the shooting death of Nicholas Callen in Tara Hills on March 31.
"It's wonderful," said a tearful Rachelle Travalini, Navarro's mother, outside the courthouse after the ruling. "My son's vindicated."
The judge ordered McQueen to stand trial. Investigators theorize he was tipped off to Callen's whereabouts and committed the killing because his ex-girlfriend was dating the 24-year-old Pinole resident.
The testimony of Travalini, whose hands shook as she drank a cup of water on the stand, was key. She testified that her son, who sat in yellow prison garb at the defense table, was "good friends" with Callen. Then she told the court about a phone call she made the day of the killing. She was returning home after accepting a job in Yountville, she said, when she phoned her son to share her good news. Navarro, she said, was at a friend's house helping Callen work on his car.
While on the phone, she said, her son relayed the news to Callen, who offered his congratulations. Then she heard a voice she didn't recognize in the background, followed by her son saying, "Whoa, whoa. What the (expletive). What the (expletive)."
"I said, 'What's the matter?' " she said. "Then I heard a low voice saying, 'You little (expletive).' I heard a loud bang. Kyle sounded panicked. He said, 'Mom, I've got to go,' and hung up."
Callen died of a gunshot wound at the scene.
Travalini's testimony, coupled with cellphone records that showed she called her son at 2:38 p.m. and spoke with him for two minutes, changed prosecutor Jason Peck's presumed timeline of the shooting, and thus the interpretation of cellphone records that Peck originally believed showed Navarro getting word to McQueen to inform him of Callen's location.
"When we charged Kyle Navarro, we did not have (Travalini's) statement," Peck told the judge.
Given Travalini's testimony, the judge said, "The evidence pretty much exclusively points to Mr. McQueen."
McQueen will be arraigned Aug. 27. Preparations for Navarro's release began immediately after the hearing.
"There's a reason you call your kid 1,000 times a day," Travalini said.
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.