by Charlotte Krovoza
On Friday, June 26, 2015, at 10:40 am the jury in the Guzman trial convened to hear the closing arguments. They were to decide on count 1, which occurred on September 27, 2013, and counts 2 through 4 spanning the time period of November 12, 2012, to September 26, 2013. After receiving jury instructions, Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin faced the jurors’ box.
With a picture of the alleged victim projected onto a screen behind her, DDA Serafin opened by asking the jury to look at the picture because it had been a while since they had seen the alleged victim. She continued, reminding the jury that this was a planned, calculated approach of a predator. He groomed her to be a compliant victim, alienating her from her mother and making her feel important. He sexualized her at the young age of 11 years old, and took advantage of her innocence.
Recognizing that the alleged victim’s reluctance to speak could hurt the prosecution’s case, Serafin was forthcoming with the jury. She pointed out that this was the case from the very beginning, aiding in her argument that the alleged victim’s statements and behavior were consistent throughout. “She was reluctant when she told her mom on November 19 of the situation of September 27, Officer Clark testified that she was closed up and then broke down. She was reluctant at the MDIC [Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center] , and just wanted yes/no questions. She did not want to talk.” DDA Serafin stated that reluctance does not equal unreliability.
From there, DDA Serafin went on to project a visual of a two-column table, going through each accusation in the case and comparing the alleged victim’s testimony at the MDIC with her statements when she testified in court at the beginning of the trial. DDA Serafin pointed to a strong alliance between testimonies of both occasions, and the unusual description she provided of the encounters that were not common knowledge for a girl her age. For example, she mentioned the defendant allegedly moving the alleged victim’s hand onto his penis. In interviews the defendant recalled feeling hair in his genital area and “watery stuff” on his penis. This was not something an 11-year-old would have knowledge of, DDA Serafin concluded.
DDA Serafin then proceeded to question the neutrality of the defense’s expert testimony from Dr. William O’Donohue, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. She questioned his motives of testifying, pointing out that 40 percent of his income comes from testifying in court, insinuating that he had a bias going into the testimony.
DDA Serafin then touched on the testimony of one of the witnesses from the previous week. XY had dated Mr. Guzman from 2006 to 2010 in high school and while a student at UC Davis. She testified that it was an abusive relationship and that he had raped her, choked her and physically assaulted her. DDA Serafin reminded the jury of some commonalities between XY’s accusations and that of the alleged victim in the current case. XY’s testimony corroborated the story that the defendant was inclined to assault innocent girls and was “likely to commit lewd acts.”
DDA Serafin then went into the pretext phone call. This call occurred November 25, 2013, following the taped interview of the alleged victim by Maria Flores, a forensic interviewer for the MDIC. DDA Serafin mentioned her initial intention to read the entire transcript but, because she was short on time, she selected specific incriminating lines to read to the jury.
The first was when the alleged victim told Mr. Guzman, “I’m pregnant,” to which he responded, “from who?” She responded, “Who do you think?” to which he responded, “Huh?” and failed to answer her question.
Instead, he told the alleged victim that that was “impossible…you need to have sex to get pregnant.” This, DDA Serafin attested, was a testament to Mr. Guzman’s acknowledgment of guilt…he knew that it was not possible because he knew he didn’t penetrate her or ejaculate. The DDA pointed out that a man who wasn’t having sexual relations with an 11-year-old would have responded with something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you are talking about,” or, “You need to tell your mother.” Instead, the defendant questioned her: “What do you want me to do… how do I help you? We’re stuck.” He continues to fret, saying, “You want to put me in jail?…she’s (mother) gonna kill us both…I’m a 100 percent sure… I just know this all right? Please trust me okay?” DDA Serafin stated that these quotes from the defendant point to his knowledge that he did something wrong, and fear of this information being exposed.
DDA Serafin then pointed the jury’s attention to the 898 emails from October 1 to October 19 between the defendant and the alleged victim. “These are not, under any circumstances, appropriate emails between a 30-year-old man and an 11-year-old girl,” she stated. Reviewing the emails, she pointed to the numerous “selfies” back and forth between them. Some had the alleged victim’s shirt lifted, showing her stomach, and others showing him lying on his side, appearing shirtless. DDA Serafin said the defendant would refer to the alleged victim as “honey bunny and sexy.” The alleged victim would respond to emails flirtatiously, such as “damn you look good” and “nobody touches my junk the way you do.” At another point in the emails there contained references to wild dreams, missing underwear, and suggestions of “we were you know what.” DDA Serafin reiterated that this was not an appropriate father figure and daughter relationship, but rather one between boyfriend and girlfriend.
She pointed to another email where the alleged victim mentions “one night” (assuming she is referencing September 27) and Mr. Guzman, in reference to when the victim is older, says that “it could have been better…you’ll know.” To this, DDA Serafin reminded the jury that this is because Mr. Guzman knows that he did not fully penetrate her. DDA Serafin asserted that Mr. Guzman knew these emails were inappropriate because he told the alleged victim to “erase all things because things are going to get ugly.”
Toward the end of her time, DDA Serafin reviewed the counts with the jury, noting that count 1 was for the entrance of substantial sexual contact, in reference to the alleged sexual intercourse that occurred on September 27 of 2013. Count 2 was touching of breast. Count 3 is Mr. Guzman’s finger in the alleged victim’s vagina. Count 4 is Mr. Guzman making the alleged victim touch his penis.
Following the district attorney, Deputy Public Defender Dave Muller came up to speak. He presented a PowerPoint presentation entitled, “Constitutional Rights.” From there, he reviewed with the jury the defendant’s rights. The first is the presumption of innocence, to which the defendant is entitled. He reminded them that it was their duty to presume his innocence. The prosecution, he explained, has the burden of proof to try to prove otherwise. As a defense attorney, Muller stated that he does not have to prove his client’s innocence. It is up the DDA to prove his guilt.
With that preface, he went on to display an image of a monthly calendar. Month by month, he reviewed the timeline of September, October, and November of 2013 as it pertained to the case.
Mr. Muller went through the timeline, day by day, to show that the allegations only came to light after Mr. Guzman filed for custody in mid-October. The emails and relationship sustained with the alleged victim occurred because the alleged victim was his pathway to his son. The alleged victim’s mother, Maria, the defendant claimed, had kidnapped his child when the family left for Bakersfield after the September 27, 2013, alleged incident.
“What do we know about Maria?” Mr. Muller asked the jury. “She is a liar…She will do everything possible to keep custody of her son.” Mr. Muller continued to paint Maria in a bad light by pulling a letter from Yolo County Child Services stating that Maria had not complied with their requests. It was not clear what specifically she had failed to do. Mr. Muller maintained that the daughter, in a sense, was the mom’s puppet, used by the mom to get what she wanted. In this case, the mom wanted custody of her youngest son. The DPD asserted that the daughter played a crucial role in the mother’s attempt to get custody, telling the police that she “didn’t want my mom to pay $5,000.” It’s assumed that she was referring to lawyer costs. The DPD made this out to be a perverse way to get custody, by using her daughter and “pulling the rape card” on her unassuming boyfriend. She does this, Mr. Muller said, so that she does not need to pay for a lawyer to represent her in court to gain custody of her son.
In his argument to jurors, DPD Muller claimed that “most alleged victims do everything they can to get away, but she didn’t.” Rather, the alleged victim in this case was the one who sent the initial email—trying to get closer to the defendant. By pointing this out, the DPD insinuated that this behavior is unlike that of an actual victim of sexual assault. The DPD continued to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, saying that no physical evidence was ever collected. Mr. Muller also pointed out that he did not understand why the mother would have waited until April of 2014 for her daughter to seek medical attention. Moreover, the alleged victim did not fully disclose all of what occurred, or further details of the incidents. DPD Muller said that this is because she didn’t know what to say, it didn’t happen. Additionally, he reverted to Dr. O’Donohue’s expert witness testimony, where he stated that it was common for children to lie when a custody case is at hand.
“To believe her a little bit isn’t enough,” he stated. He continued by telling the jurors that the alleged victim had an interest in her mother’s maintaining custody of her brother, therefore giving the jurors grounds for reasonable doubt right off the bat. “If you believe a 12-year-old could lie, than you must acquit Mr. Guzman.”
DPD Muller closed with an image of a pawn chess piece displayed with a queen chess piece as a shadow in the background. He went on to explain that if you moved the pawn across the board, it can become the queen. “Mr. Guzman is on one side and Maria is forcing her daughter to make these statements so that Maria can win a paternity suit.”
He continued, stating that the alleged victim was pressured “from every angle” not because of abuse, but because of a conflict. “Two adults decided to act like children. If you have reason to believe she may have been lying, it is your duty to acquit Mr. Guzman and put and end to this game.”
After a short afternoon recess, DDA Serafin had the final word. She made it quick. She said that custody disputes are not uncommon and happen all the time; just because the custody dispute matches up with the sexual assault accusations and there is a parallel timeline does not mean that it’s being made up. She said the alleged victim’s disclosure is sound and reliable and pointed out that, for example, Ms. Flores, from the MDIC, tested her reliability by confronting her with the question, “What did your mom say?” to which the alleged victim responded “To tell the truth.” She also added that Ms. Flores, who has been doing this for over a decade, found no evidence that the alleged victim was being forced to lie.
She also said that the alleged victim brought up the custody issue with the officers who interviewed her, saying her mother did not want to pay for a lawyer. DDA Serafin asked the jury, “Why would the alleged victim disclose her motive? If the motive has a sinister purpose, you would hide it.”
She reminded the jurors that they are the judges of witness credibility and only they can decide if the alleged victim is credible. She asked if the jurors would remember this as a case where a 30-year-old abused an 11-year-old or would they remember it as a case where a family brought a “whole bunch of lies” against a man?