Episode 093: Timicca Nauta

September 25, 2023

When a teenaged girl is brutally murdered in her home, her island community is shocked and terrified. Who killed Timicca Nauta?

Episode Media
Timicca Jadean Nauta (Guam Daily Post)
Timicca Nauta (KUAM News)
View inside Timicca’s shack (Guam Daily Post)
Brandon Acosta (Guam Police Department)
Memorial where Timicca’s shack once stood (Guam Daily Post)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week’s case was recommended to me by a listener, and my research into it took me on quite a journey. There are so many stories out there that deserve to be heard, so if there is a case that’s important to you, I’d love to hear about it. There’s a link in the show notes that will take you directly to the submission form where you can recommend a case for the podcast.

This week’s case takes us to the island of Guam, where a brutal murder changed a family and their community forever. This episode discusses sensitive topics and includes graphic descriptions, so listener discretion is advised.

Fifteen-year-old Timicca Nauta was born and raised on the island of Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean and the largest of the Mariana Island chain. Timicca was the youngest of four, and her siblings adored her. After their mother passed away, Timicca and her siblings were surrounded by the love of their large extended family and the close-knit community of their Chamoru culture.

Like most teenagers her age, Timicca loved hanging out with her friends, making TikToks, taking photos, and generally goofing around. She was bubbly and happy, always up for a new adventure. At home, Timicca loved to draw and create, but music was her passion. She sang and played the ukulele quite skillfully – something she taught herself – and had dreams of becoming a superstar.

Timicca was also kind and thoughtful. She was always willing to jump in when someone needed help, and she was determined to see the good in others. Her sister Dezree told the Pacific Daily News that Timicca couldn’t hold a grudge – if someone spoke badly of her, she just let it roll off her back. “She always had the kindest heart.”

Timicca lived with her grandmother Salomae in the village of Dededo on the northern tip of the island. Salomae Nauta and her son Rick lived in the main house, a semi-concrete structure on Chalan Koda. On the same property, Timicca had built a small wooden shack with a tin roof. According to her family, Timicca had wanted a separate space for herself and Dezree, so they tore down an old tool shed and repurposed the wood, creating a small room that they shared. Although the shack was tiny and humble, Timicca had made it cozy – she painted a silhouette of a tree on the wall and hung her precious ukuleles on the wall above the bed she shared with her sister. Timicca was so proud of the space she’d created.

In June of 2018, Timicca was enjoying her summer break, having just finished her freshman year at Okkodo High School. She was happy to be spending more time with her friends and with her music.

On Friday, June 15th, Timicca and Dezree spent the day in the neighboring village of Yigo with some of their family members and Dezree’s boyfriend Tyler. As the sun went down and everyone prepared to go home, Dezree decided she wanted to stay in Yigo for the night, so Timicca headed back to Dededo with her uncle.

When they got home, Timicca still had energy and wasn’t ready to settle in for the night. Her cousin Jravan, who lived in a converted bus on the property, suggested they watch a movie. They chose the classic slasher film A Nightmare on Elm Street, and by the time they finished, Timicca was sufficiently creeped out. As she prepared to go back to her room, she told her cousin, “Jravan, this movie is going to give me nightmares.” Jravan laughed and said, “Good luck with that,” before wishing Timicca goodnight. He heard the door to her shack close behind her, then settled into his own bed.

He awoke the next morning to the sound of screams.

Around 6am on Saturday, Salomae woke up and began her morning routine of feeding the animals. There were a lot of chores to be done that day and she needed help, so she walked from the main house to Timicca’s shack, calling her name. When there was no answer from her granddaughter, Salomae opened the door to the shack and saw Timicca lying face down on her bed, partially covered by a blanket. But something seemed off – the teenager was only partly on the bed; her knees were on the floor while her head rested on the mattress.

Salomae reached out in the darkness and touched Timicca, trying to shake her awake. But the girl felt wet and cold. Alarmed, Salomae pulled the blanket away and saw that her granddaughter’s hair was matted with blood. Salomae jumped up and raced back to the house, calling out for her son, shouting through the open window that something had happened to Timicca.

Rick ran out of the house, joined by Jravan, who had heard the shouting from the nearby bus. Rick entered the shack and found exactly what his mother had seen – Timicca lying face down, covered in blood. There was a large cut on her shoulder blade and a gash by her ear, and in the rising daylight, Rick could see blood spattered on the bedroom wall.

Rick screamed for someone to call the police, and soon, their quiet residential street was swarming with emergency vehicles.

Word quickly spread in the small community – someone was dead on Chalan Koda. But investigators were tight-lipped; they would not officially release the identity of the deceased until an autopsy was completed. Sergeant Paul Tapao told the media, “This is an ongoing investigation. I cannot release any information other than the fact that we are currently conducting a death investigation… For the integrity of the investigation, we’re not going to release any other information until the autopsy has been concluded by our chief medical examiner.”

Two days later, police confirmed the rumors swirling around Dededo – 15-year-old Timicca Nauta had been found dead in her home, the victim of a homicide. But the medical examiner would not release any additional information, citing the ongoing investigation. Timicca had been murdered, but no one was saying how or why.

The news rocked the community. The Guam Department of Education issued a statement saying that although schools were on summer break, they would provide counseling services to any students who needed them. Family and friends poured out their grief on social media, tagging their posts with the hashtag #justiceformicca. Some of Timicca’s friends banded together to commission a song in her memory. Local artist Christian Muña rapped, “You took away a young life / you took away a blessing / I hope that they catch you and that justice is served / You may be gone but your name will live forever on this earth.”

Even with the public outcry for justice, police didn’t have any answers. The Guam Police Department asked anyone with information about Timicca’s death to call into the tipline. But weeks passed with no updates. There was a real sense of fear in the community – a killer was on the loose and no one knew if or when they might strike again.

At the end of June, the FBI joined the investigation after evidence from the crime scene had been sent to their lab for analysis. But they couldn’t give a definite timeline for when that analysis would be completed. The agency assured the public that they did understand the urgency of this case, but they could only work so fast.

While they waited, Timicca’s family prepared for her memorial service. On July 28th, family and friends gathered together at the local community center to remember the bright young girl who had brought so much joy to those around her. They tearfully shared memories of her infectious smile and how she made them feel.

Timicca’s best friend Frances said, “She would tell me everything, I would tell her everything. I miss everything about her… Timicca was a good person… I hope they never forget how special she was.”

Many of Timicca’s friends and family spoke about the need for justice. Her dance instructor said, “We will continue to fight for justice, until justice is served, she’ll finally rest in peace.”

Her sister Dezree agreed, saying, “We won’t fully be at peace if we don’t fully know the whole story… [I hope] whoever did this gets caught and she has justice.”

While the community grieved, investigators were hard at work behind the scenes, following every lead that came their way. They systematically worked through their suspect list, questioning anyone who may have been in the area on the night of June 15th, anyone who might be even tangentially related to the Nauta family. Several persons of interest voluntarily gave fingerprint and DNA samples, which enabled detectives to rule them out. Their suspect pool was narrowing.

Then, detectives realized that there had been several burglaries in the Chalan Koda neighborhood in the days surrounding Timicca’s death, one taking place directly across the street from the Nauta home on the exact same night. Most of the burglaries were small – a handful of money from a piggy bank or some tools stolen from a shed – but no one had been hurt, and no one knew who the culprit was.

On June 19th, a man reported to police that he had purchased a leaf blower from a neighbor, and he suspected that it might have been stolen. Police traced the item back to a Chalan Koda resident who had reported it stolen two days earlier. The unwitting buyer said that he had purchased it from Brandon Acosta, a 24-year-old man who lived in the neighborhood.

Police arrested Acosta on suspicion of burglary, and when they did, they found multiple stolen items in his possession. He admitted to committing the burglaries and was booked into the local jail.

For investigators, this was too much of a coincidence to ignore. Brandon Acosta lived on the same street as the Nauta family and had burglarized multiple homes nearby. It wasn’t that much of a stretch to think that he may have been responsible for Timicca’s murder.

While looking into Acosta’s background, investigators learned that in January, he had been charged with a third-degree felony after attacking his ex-girlfriend during an argument, grabbing her neck and choking her, then kicking her violently. At the time of Timicca’s death in June, Acosta had been on pre-trial release while awaiting his court date.

As much as investigators believed that Acosta was their man, they couldn’t get an arrest warrant without probable cause; they needed more. Then, they got a break.

While Acosta sat in jail on the burglary charges, he told a fellow inmate that he was the one who had killed Timicca Nauta. This was enough for detectives to bring him in for questioning.

During the interrogation, detectives asked Acosta directly if he had killed Timicca, and Acosta said yes. But he also said that he didn’t mean to do it. He had been high on methamphetamine that night, and his addiction often made him do things that he wouldn’t otherwise do. Acosta claimed that he had entered the tiny shack with the intention of stealing something, but in the darkness, he had startled Timicca, and he had stabbed her. Acosta told detectives that he had made a mistake.

Brandon Acosta was arrested on October 19th, four months after Timicca’s death. He was charged with multiple offenses, including aggravated murder and assault. In November, he pleaded not guilty, and the case headed to trial.

Timicca’s family was relieved by the news of Acosta’s arrest and indictment, but they knew the road ahead would be long. In fact, it would be another two years of waiting, struggling to understand what had happened to their precious Timicca.

As the months passed, every update from the court was more surprising than the last. In June of 2019, Acosta’s lawyer asked a judge to dismiss the charge of felony while on felony release. He felt that the fact that Acosta had been charged for committing a felony while waiting for his trial for a different felony should not stand. The judge did not dismiss the charge, but allowed it to be split so that Acosta could be tried separately for the murder charges. This was confusing to the family, but it was nothing compared to the surprise that came next.

In July of 2019, a grand jury handed down a superseding indictment, charging Acosta with first-, second-, and third-degree criminal sexual conduct. According to the indictment, Brandon Acosta had sexually assaulted Timicca Nauta while in the process of burglarizing her home.

The family was shocked by this news. Back in 2018, they had been told that a rape kit was not done on Timicca during her autopsy, so to find that out now was devastating. Her aunt Rose told the Pacific Daily News that the family should have been told first, not the media. “If not to the public, at least to us, to the family, so that we know where we stand and what’s going on and [we aren’t left] in the dark.”

Finally, in February of 2020, the trial of Brandon Acosta began. In opening statements, Assistant Attorney General Leonardo Rapadas placed a photo of Timicca in front of the jury and told them about the night she was brutally raped and murdered. He explained how Timicca had been peacefully asleep in her bed when a strange man had entered the tiny shack and scared her awake. After assaulting her, the man stabbed her over and over, striking her in the head, the neck, the back. Rapadas urged the jury to examine the evidence and determine the truth. “The evidence will show … [Brandon Acosta] is responsible for her rape and death. Use your common sense to find him guilty.”

The defense argued that Acosta was not responsible for this horrible crime, that the evidence just didn’t add up. Attorney William Pole stated, “When you look at the government’s evidence, I ask you to also look at what it doesn’t show, it’s not going to show time, it’s not going to show reason, it’s not going to show purpose, it’s going to lead you to reasonable doubt.”

As the trial went on, jurors listened to weeks of emotional testimony from Timicca’s family and friends. Salomae Nauta recounted the morning of June 16th, the horrible realization that her granddaughter was dead. She recalled the blood spattered on the walls, matted in Timicca’s hair and soaking her blanket.

Rick Nauta testified about his experience that morning, hearing his mother scream for help. “I was just really out of it. I was dealing with what I just saw. I saw my niece lying there. She wasn’t moving… I fell apart after that day.”

Timicca’s sisters and cousin Jravan testified about the layout of the family’s property, how Timicca’s shack was completely unprotected. There was no lock on the door, and only a small cut-out window. On cross-examination, the defense asked why no one on the property had heard any sounds of an attack that night. Dezree testified that although the shack was small, the wood planks were thick, blocking out sound. They couldn’t even hear Jravan when he was in the nearby bus. “We can’t talk to each other through the house. Unless we’d yell.”

Several forensic experts testified about the crime scene and DNA evidence. Dr. Martin Ishikawa told the jury about Timicca’s injuries and stated that she had bled out after multiple sharp force blows.

FBI forensic examiner Brandon McCollum testified that the DNA samples collected from Timicca’s body contained male DNA. When they compared the samples against multiple suspects, it was only a match to Brandon Acosta.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence in the case was Acosta’s own words. In addition to the confession he made to investigators, Acosta also implicated himself to several other people.

Acosta’s sister-in-law Rayline testified about his behavior in the days following Timicca’s death. On June 17th, the day after the murder, Rayline said the whole family was gathered at their shared home on Chalan Koda to celebrate Father’s Day.

According to Rayline’s testimony, Acosta had been casually chatting about the murder during dinner, saying that he had heard that Timicca had been found bent over with cuts on her body, that she had just been wearing a nightshirt and underwear. Acosta claimed that he had heard this information from his girlfriend’s brother, but Rayline and the other members of the Acosta family were disturbed by what he was saying, how he knew so many details about the crime scene when no information had been officially released. Her husband Joshua – Brandon’s brother – also testified to this, confirming Rayline’s statements. They said that Brandon Acosta had been acting strangely that day, more quiet than usual. They didn’t put it together at the time, but they had come to believe that he truly was responsible for Timicca’s death.

A few weeks into the trial, Acosta’s defense requested that the Superior Court judge dismiss all charges against his client, saying that the prosecution had not presented enough evidence in the case. Attorney William Pole told the judge, “It is our position that legally several of the charges cannot be sustained and should be dismissed before it ever reaches the jury. Some of these issues will be a first impression for Guam, so these will be very important issues that could end up going to the Supreme Court, depending on the outcome.”

But before the judge could decide, the territory of Guam was put on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The trial was paused, but things were still moving behind the scenes.

In April, the judge denied the defense’s request for dismissal, ruling that the charges would stand, but the defense was not giving up. In June, they filed an official motion for acquittal, saying that they were interested in moving the case along and resolving the matter quickly. This motion was also denied.

The trial eventually picked up again, but the courtroom was limited to only the necessary participants, and COVID regulations were strictly enforced. The families were allowed to watch via livestream, and the jury was shown hours of taped testimony to refresh their memories. Finally, in July of 2020, the prosecution and defense rested their case, and the jury was left to decide.

After just one day of deliberations, the jury reached a unanimous decision. They pronounced Brandon Acosta guilty of the rape and murder of Timicca Nauta.

Assistant Attorney General Rapadas spoke to the media after the verdict, saying, “It’s not a matter of victory but it’s a matter of finding justice for Timicca. I think today’s verdict rang loud and true for her. I’m happy for the family that they finally get some kind of closure… We cannot bring Ms. Nauta back to her family, but we hope that the close of this case and upcoming sentencing will aid in the road to peace and recovery for the family.”

In August of 2020, Brandon Acosta was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Nauta family was overjoyed by the news, relieved that they had finally found justice for Timicca. But of course, their lives would never be the same. Timicca’s aunt Rose told the Guam Daily Post, “Our family is so different now. Things have changed here. A life that was taken that wasn’t supposed to be taken. She was such a beautiful girl.”

Today, the small shack where Timicca lived has been taken down and replaced with a beautiful memorial. Pictures of Timicca rest alongside colorful flowers and painted messages, reminding all who pass by of the bright, happy teenager who loved to draw and dance and sing, who adored her family and dreamed of becoming a superstar. Her light was put out far too soon, robbing the world of all she could have been.