FULLERTON, Calif. (AP) — A woman testified Thursday that the man who raped and kidnapped her when she was 15 became her husband and father of their daughter by inflicting years of physical and emotional abuse that left her afraid to try to leave him.
The 26-year-old said at the trial of her mother's former boyfriend Isidro Garcia that she tried to break free from him twice when they were working janitorial jobs. Both times he beat her, so she stopped trying, she said.
Garcia would hit her when she refused to have sex with him and over time she accepted her situation, moved with him to an apartment complex, married and underwent fertility treatments to get pregnant, she said.
"He would beat me — so I had to do what he wanted," the woman said in a cool, composed voice through a Spanish interpreter.
There's no dispute the teen got in a truck and drove off with Garcia in 2004 after a fight between Garcia and her mother. The question at the heart of the case is whether she did so willingly or because she felt she had no choice after he told her she couldn't go home because police had been called to the family's apartment.
Defense lawyer Seth Bank told the woman she had been lying for years about who she was and her life with Garcia. He showed jurors a photo of the woman smiling and wearing a frilly wedding gown while being hugged by Garcia and asked whether she looked happy.
"It seems that way, but I wasn't," she said.
Garcia has pleaded not guilty to rape, kidnapping and committing lewd acts on a child. He could face a possible life sentence if convicted of all charges.
The Associated Press does not name victims in alleged sexual abuse cases.
Also Thursday, a judge rejected an attempt from prosecutors to call as a witness Elizabeth Smart, who was held captive for nine months after she was kidnapped from her Utah home and now works to bring awareness to predatory crimes against children. They said that Smart, like the victim in their case, didn't take advantage of escape opportunities because she was manipulated by her captor.
The judge ruled in a hearing outside the jury's presence that Smart "has not provided sufficient foundation to qualify as an expert in this case."
Garcia has said the girl ran away with him willingly to escape an unhappy home life and changed her story years later when she regretted her choice and began reconnecting with her family on Facebook.
The woman testified that Garcia began favoring her and buying her clothes and shoes soon after she arrived in California in 2004 from Mexico to live with her mother.
She said he forced her to have sex at least six times before they left her mother's home. She went to a nearby park after the fight, and he forbade her from returning because the police had been called to the home in an immigrant neighborhood in Santa Ana, she testified.
"He told me that the police could take me," she said, adding that she feared getting arrested.
Garcia initially took her to a locked garage in nearby Los Angeles County and kept her with him constantly, she said. Over time, she said she had more freedom and made friends, but she never told anyone her story out of fear they wouldn't believe her and that Garcia would hit her.
She was afraid to reach out to her family for years, she said, but sent her sister a Facebook message in 2014. They began meeting, and her mother showed her a newspaper clipping from a decade earlier about their search for her, which made her want to be with them, she said.
In May 2014, she went to police near the apartment where she lived with Garcia in Bell Gardens, California, to report an alleged domestic violence incident and told them she was the teen reported missing in 2004.
Garcia was arrested. The couple's neighbors said they were shocked, saying they had seemed so happy raising their young daughter together.
Bank has said his client acknowledges having an inappropriate sexual relationship with the teen, but he did not rape or abduct her. He said Garcia adored his wife and worked hard at jobs as a janitor and machine operator to provide for his family and took family trips to Disneyland and Las Vegas.