by Makisha Singh
On the afternoon of February 9, 2015, the jury in the child molestation case against Manual Guzman came to a verdict on only one of the charges, Count 2. The jury acquitted on that charge. Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin told the jury that charges 2 through 5 were related to numerous allegations of touching – touching the alleged victim’s buttocks, breasts and vagina, and the alleged victim touching Guzman’s penis. They could decide on any number of the incidents, but they had to agree on which incident they were finding him guilty.
The predominantly white and male jury found Guzman not guilty of the count that included a main charge of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under the age of 14, as well as finding him not guilty of the lesser included charges that included battery and assault.
Judge Rosenberg declared a mistrial on Counts 1, 3, 4, and 5. Count 1 was the most serious charge as it was the allegation of sexual intercourse on September 27, 2013, with the alleged victim in the downstairs living room.
Guzman will now be represented by a public defender due to insufficient funds to retain private counsel. The DA will retry this case and the trial setting conference is set for Wednesday, February 18, 2015, at 8:30 AM in Department 4.
Previous article by David Greenwald:
Prosecution and Defense Clash on Reliability of Victim’s Account as Trial Wraps Up
Both the defense and prosecution agreed on Friday that the case against Manuel Guzman was that he was accused of five counts of sexual abuse against his girlfriend’s daughter (he shared a younger child with his girlfriend), culminating with alleged sexual intercourse with the then-11-year-old on September 27, 2013. The prosecution, however, argued that the girl’s accounts were relatively consistent and were backed by both nearly 900 emails, as well as a pretext phone call.
“He stole her childhood, he stole her innocence,” Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin told the jury during her closing argument. Instead of guiding her, “he sexualized her when she was 11 years old.”
Defense attorney Steven Sabbadini who, along with David Dratman, represented Mr. Guzman, countered, “It didn’t happen. It’s not believable,” referring to some of the alleged victim’s accounts. Instead, he would tell jurors this was a vindictive lie concocted by the girl’s mother in a custody battle with Mr. Guzman.
Mr. Guzman faces five counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a victim under 14 years of age. The main charge, which comes with an enhancement for a significant sexual act, is that Mr. Guzman had sexual intercourse with the 11-year-old in the living room of the family home late at night on September 27, 2013. The other four charges stem from his repeated advances that included touching her breast, buttocks and vagina, and placing her hand on his penis, what the Ms. Serafin called “grooming” the alleged victim prior to the main act.
Due to the length of the trial – which ran nearly two weeks, much longer than originally anticipated – Judge David Rosenberg limited both sides to 45 minutes total in closing arguments. This caused both sides not to go into the type of detail they might otherwise go into.
Ms. Serafin argued that the details of the girl’s account had remarkable reliability. For instance, she testified that it felt weird to have her hand on his penis, noting the hair. She also referred to a watery substance.
Ms. Serafin would argue to the jury this is a strong indication of the truth of her testimony, since these types of details would not be readily available to such a young and innocent girl unless she had experienced it.
“The reason she can explain that to you… is because it happened,” she said.
She noted that after the incident on September 27, the girl went back to bed after the sexual encounter but would take off her clothes. The DDA speculated – to the objection of the defense – that she did this because she felt dirty. Ms. Serafin again argued this was a very realistic reaction to such an incident.
Ms. Serafin acknowledged that the pretext phone call at first did not sound bad, but under further review it was very incriminating. She argued that Mr. Guzman seemed suspicious from the start.
When the young girl approached Mr. Guzman regarding that she might be pregnant, his response was, “From who?” and that “you have to have sex to get pregnant.” He would also ask, “Do you know what sex is?”
Ms. Serafin argued that this was due to the fact that he knew that he either never fully penetrated her or ejaculated. She argued that he never denied the act, which makes it “an adoptive admission.”
The DDA said that alleged victim then threatened that if Guzman did not help her, she would tell her mother. His response was that he would help her, that “we’re stuck,” that you “have to help me too” and “what do you want them to do, put me in jail?”
Ms Serafin said that only at the end did he deny having sex with the girl.
Ms. Serafin also hammered on the 898 emails that were exchanged in two weeks between Mr. Guzman and the girl. She argued, “They don’t have a father-daughter innocent relationship and it shows.”
The girl refers to a highly sexual dream about being in bed with him. He responded, “Wow, you’re having wild dreams.”
He sent photos to her, lying in bed with his shirt off and another with a tank top where he is flexing his muscles (he is a large man with very large arm muscles).
He also repeatedly told her to erase the emails. Ms. Serafin argued that this is because he saw them as incriminating.
Steven Sabbadini told the jury that it is impossible to prove a negative and prove that something did not happen when there is no evidence that it did. Ms. Serafin relied on the alleged victim as a truth teller, however, Mr. Sabbadini attempted to cast doubt on that and used the testimony of clinical psychologist William O’Donohue, an expert witness, to help do so.
Mr. Sabbadini argued that this was really just a custody battle. He argued that people often lie in custody cases, as the mother was desperate to keep custody of the youngest child, which she shared with Guzman. He argued that a high percentage of sexual abuse charges that arise in custody cases are found to be false.
After creating the motive for the young girl to fabricate the charges, he argued that the examples of the sex acts are “impossible to believe.” There are several different components to this argument.
First, he argued there is a logistical problem with the girl’s description of how the sex act occurred. Second, he argued and detailed several instances where there were inconsistencies of her accounts given to police, being interviewed at the MDIC (Multi-disciplinary Interview Center), and then testifying at the trial.
He argued that the sexual positioning she described is “impossible to perform,” and that act “makes no sense.” To the latter, he argued that “she keeps modifying the story” and “she can’t keep her story straight.” He said, after presenting his version of the evidence, “The evidence says she making it up as she goes… it morphs so much.”
Mr. Sabbadini argued, for instance, details about penetration where first the girl said she had sex with Guzman and then she said he penetrated a little. He noted that she is an 11-year-old and he is a large man whose ex-wife apparently testified that he had a very large penis. Yet the alleged victim testified that when they had sex, it didn’t hurt much and she barely felt it.
But more damaging, perhaps, to the prosecution’s case is the fact that the mother refused to take her to the doctor to have a sexual assault examination done for her. He speculated that this was due to the fact that the mother knew the event never happened. But, as a result, there is no physical evidence in this case.
Finally, he noted another implausibility, that many of these actions occurred in a relatively small 1000-square-foot home. The girl was never home alone with him and, therefore, the mother and brothers were always home at the same time.
Dr. O’Donohue testified that we would not expect the core details of her story to change – the doctor would testify “that she’s all over the board” and that this inconsistency is indicative of a “false report of sexual assault.”
The doctor noted it was highly unusual for the victim in a sexual assault case to want to go live with her abuser and to initiate email contact.
Mr. Sabbadini next attacked the pretext call, noting that she was laughing as though she enjoyed the call. He argued that she was very demanding and very assertive with him, which he said the doctor testified was not normal behavior for one abused.
Mr. Sabbadini noted that when the emails were sent there was no restraining order. He noted that Mr. Guzman never requested pictures, never asked when can we meet, never initiated the sexual conversation.
“He’s using her,” the attorney argued, but using her to find out what was happening with her mom and his son, at a time when the mom had totally cut off contact with him.
Mr. Sabbadini said the DDA is speculating in its interpretation of some of the emails. He argued we have no way of knowing some of the meaning of seemingly damaging emails. “It is not definitive,” he argued.
Finally, he challenged the prosecution and investigators. He argued that the investigators did not ask questions that would test the credibility of the girl’s accounts. He complained that they failed to challenge inconsistencies and failed to get DNA or other physical evidence.
He argued that, if they had, Guzman would not be here. “They did not do their job, it’s not excusable,” he said as he concluded.
DDA Serafin, in the prosecution’s final closing argument, had 15 minutes left. She began by attacking the testimony of Dr. O’Donohue. She argued that he acknowledged that most sexual abuse claims are true, and only two to 10 percent have been shown to be false.
She argued that he was paid by the defense a remarkable $8000 fee – which she said was “bought and paid” for by the defense. He was paid, she said, to muddy the waters. He never met with or interviewed the alleged victim.
She tried to argue he wasn’t even in the courtroom for her testimony, but the defense objected that experts, along with other witnesses, are precluded from sitting in on other evidence.
She argued he has nothing to offer them, as he can’t speak to the allegations directly.
She argued both the email and pretext calls were very clear. She argued that the jury is allowed to draw inferences and use common sense. She highlighted three key things, “Yeah it was great but it could have been better, you will see one day.” Also, “The last night we…” and finally, “It was amazing the last night.”
These, she argued, were clear and unequivocal.
Ms. Serafin cited her own expert, Maria Flores from the MDIC, who said that the girl was not pressured by her mother to testify and showed no signs of coercion.
Ms. Serafin told the jury to consider the issue of custody for the timing, rather than the truth, of the allegation.
The closing arguments wrapped up just before noon. The jury left on Friday without reaching a decision and will return on Monday, February 9, 2015, to continue deliberation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting