JOSHUA TREE — A 13-year-old witness took the stand at the Joshua Tree Superior Courthouse Monday morning to testify against Rafael Ari Aikens, the man accused of killing her mom and grandmother in their Twentynine Palms home in 2017. Bringing several jurors, court workers and audience members to tears, she recalled the events of the evening of March 23, 2017, that led her to dialing 911.
“First when I was calling I went to the closet and then I was looking around and I saw my grandma dead on the floor and then I saw my mom,” she said. Her first name has been omitted to protect her privacy. “I didn’t know if she was dead because I hadn’t seen anyone dead before.”
Her testimony closed out the first day of trial for Aikens. The 24-year-old is charged with two counts of murder with enhancements for the use of a firearm.
Christy McKissic, 32, and her mother, Renee Metcalf, 62, were shot to death in the Twentynine Palms home they shared with McKissic's daughter. Deputies said Aikens had a sexual relationship with McKissic for about a year leading up to the time of her death.
On the night in question, the girl said she fell asleep in her grandmother’s bed, a regular occurrence, after watching the Investigation Discovery channel. She awoke in the middle of the night, feeling her grandmother jump out of bed and race to her mother’s room down the hall.
“I heard three loud bangs,” she said. “I remember seeing this blood by my grandma’s door. It looked like it squirted and I remember saying to myself for some reason, ‘Please don’t let them be dead.’”
She testified she was scared and stayed in bed until a man came into the room. She said he pointed the gun at her and told her to go back to sleep.
“He said, ‘Shut up,’ and then I remember one more thing he said to me before I asked him a question,” she said. “I said, ‘Are you my mom’s friend?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah,’ and then I said something else and he said, ‘Shut up, go to sleep.’”
In court, the 13-year-old pointed to Aikens and identified him as the man who was in her room.
She said she pretended to go to sleep and after a few moments of rummaging around in her clothes, the man left the room and she heard the front door close and saw a light through the window. After seeing the light, she said she knew he was gone and she got up and called 911.
“My mom and grandma are dead,” she told the operator.
A recording of the call was played before the court before her testimony Monday and was verified by Blaine Torres, the dispatcher on the call. Torres is based in the dispatching office in Hesperia and he said that, while the call was over two years ago, it still sticks out in his mind.
Torres wired the call to local emergency medical services and deputies from the Morongo Basin sheriff’s station reported arriving on the scene minutes later, at 12:09 p.m.
Deputy Wayne Greer testified that he and his partner, Jaime Maesdas, were the first to arrive at the scene.
“I was approached by a juvenile girl,” he said in court Monday. “She was very distraught, very upset.”
Greer said he had Maesdas take the child out of the house so he could clear the residence. He wanted to make sure a suspect wasn’t still in the house.
Greer said he quickly saw the bodies of Metcalf and McKissic. McKissic was wearing only a shirt and was undressed from the waist down.
“She had a tank top on and maybe a pair of shorts around her legs as if someone tried to take them off or put them back on her,” he said.
Maesdas took the girl and her two dogs to the Morongo Basin sheriff’s station, where the girl described the man in her room as African-American, tall and with a stern-looking face.
About a week later, Aikens was brought in for questioning.
Defense attorney plans to call Aikens to the stand
Aikens went out on the night of the deaths to Edchadas Mexican Restaurant in Twentynine Palms with three friends. At the time, Aikens was a lance corporal in the Marine Corps and he and his friends had just returned from a field operation. They took Thomas Mihlbachler’s car, a 2006 Toyota four-runner that the prosecution alleges Aikens later drove to the crime scene, into town for some drinks.
Mihlbachler testified Monday that Aikens was a friend of his; they lived two doors away from one another. The group was out at the restaurant for a few hours and returned onto the combat center. Their plan, he said was for a designated driver to drop them all off at the barracks and then drive the car to a parking lot where Mihlbachler would retrieve his keys and walk home. Instead, Aikens went with the designated driver to return the keys and Mihlbachler said they were in his room the next morning.
“I was not aware of the murders until I was detained and questioned,” he testified Monday. “I mentioned two instances where the keys may not have been in my possession.”
Mihlbachler, along with living near Aikens, also served with him in a deployment to the Middle East and trained in weapons alongside him. Mihlbachler said Aikens’ job was a machine gunner and that they trained in pretty much every weapon except handguns.
“Aikens was a well-respected machine gunner known for being good at his job,” he said. “Part of his job was to shoot well.”
Aikens obtained his own weapon in Twentynine Palms in February 2017 at O’Three Tactical in Twentynine Palms.
The owner of the store, Christopher Bingham, testified that Aikens obtained a .45 caliber pistol from his shop on Feb. 7, 2017.
Deputy district attorney Justin Crocker called the women’s deaths “execution by a trained killer” in his opening statement to the jurors.
“And that trained killer is the defendant, Rafael Ari Aikens,” he said.
Aikens’ attorney, Donald Calabria, said the jurors would have a chance to hear from Aikens later on in the trial, which is expected to play out over the next two weeks in the Joshua Tree Superior Courthouse.
“He’ll tell you his service to this country,” Calabria said. “He’ll tell you what he did and what he didn’t do on that night.”