Jury convicts man of lewd acts on child he later married

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 04, 2016 8:04 PM
Jury convicts man of lewd acts on child he later married

FULLERTON, Calif. (AP) — It was a case that made headlines: A woman who disappeared a decade earlier at age 15 resurfaced and said her current husband had actually abducted her, raped her and forced her to marry him.

But in a trial that played out in an Orange County courtroom, the husband's attorney claimed the truth was far more nuanced — and much less damning.

Isidro Garcia's attorney showed photos of his client, now 42, and the woman at their wedding and smiling with their young daughter, who was conceived using fertility treatments.

On Friday, a jury deadlocked on the most serious charge of rape and acquitted Garcia of kidnapping. They convicted him of lewd acts with a minor after his attorney acknowledged he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the girl when she was a teen.

Garcia at first rested his head on the table as the verdict was read and later fell to his knees and repeatedly said "Gracias!" while raising his hands to the ceiling.

The prosecution offered him a deal just minutes before the verdict was read Friday, but Garcia rejected it.

"I'm really happy with the way in which the jury pushed back against the overreach by the district attorney's office," said Garcia's attorney, Seth Bank. "It gave me a lot of faith in our criminal justice system."

Outside court, several jurors said they were deeply divided and troubled by the difference between the alleged victim's account and Garcia's account. At least two jurors said they were haunted by the deadlock on the rape charge, while the jury forewoman said she and others felt the alleged victim lied on the witness stand.

Garcia faces a maximum of four years and four months, but could receive only probation at sentencing next month with credit for two years of time served. The rape count was dismissed Friday.

"I'm disappointed. I knew that this was a difficult case when I filed it, but I really did believe (the alleged victim), and I felt I could prove it," prosecutor Whitney Bokosky said.

The case drew national attention in May 2014 after the woman contacted her sister on Facebook and said she wanted to reunite.

In 2004, the teen's mother was dating Garcia, who lived with them, and the mother was increasingly upset with Garcia's advances on her daughter.

There was no dispute that the girl, who was in the U.S. illegally, drove away with Garcia after he fought with her mother at the family's Santa Ana apartment. The question was whether she did so willingly or because she felt trapped after Garcia told her she couldn't go home because police were at the apartment and would arrest her.

Prosecutors said Garcia then beat the girl and threatened her for years; Garcia contended she ran away to escape an unhappy home but had second thoughts after finding her family on social media.

Jurors were sharply divided over the trial's outcome. At least two said they spent hours trying to persuade others that Garcia committed rape. The panel ultimately deadlocked 9-3 on that count.

"I don't think it's justice because I think he raped her," said Elinor Miklos, a juror. "I don't believe that any grown man should be taking advantage of a young girl in a situation that she was in."

Jury forewoman Yolanda Nowicki said she came to believe that the alleged victim made up her story because she didn't want to be with Garcia anymore but wanted custody of their daughter.

"The victim, a lot of us felt that she had committed perjury on the stand, that she wasn't truthful and honest," she said. "We felt that she went willingly."

Garcia will have to register as a sex offender and faces deportation to Mexico upon his release. His cousin, Ricardo Manzanares, said Garcia has family in Jojutla, a rural town south of Mexico City, and will return there.

During the trial, jurors heard testimony from the now-26-year-old woman, her mother and her sister about the fight that led to her disappearance.

The woman testified that Garcia began favoring her and buying her clothes soon after she arrived from Mexico in 2004 and forced her to have sex multiple times.

After the fight, Garcia took her to a locked garage in nearby Los Angeles County, gave her fake identification and beat her twice when she tried to leave, she said.

Over time, she had more freedom and eventually made friends, but Garcia hit her when she refused sex, so she gradually accepted her situation, married him and underwent fertility treatments, she testified.

The Associated Press does not name people who say they are victims of sexual abuse.

____

Associated Press Writer Amy Taxin in Tustin, Calif., contributed to this report.