By Carla Arango
“Mr, Cleveland took advantage of his stepdaughter when she was just nine years old,” Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays told the jury as she started her opening remarks..
Robert Cleveland, from West Sacramento, is charged with six counts of lewd acts with a child under fourteen years of age (Penal Code section 288(a)) after his stepdaughter confessed that she had allegedly been touched inappropriately when she was just nine years old.
The defendant is represented by Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso, while Ms. Hays represents the People.
Ms. Hays explained to the jury how the victim’s mom often worked in the evenings, which prevented her from being at home when her three children went to bed at night.
While the mom was away, Mr. Cleveland allegedly told the young girl she had to take off her clothes if she wanted to play games on the computer and, when the girl would question it, he told her the clothes were dirty and had germs she couldn’t see.
Ms. Hays told the jury this continued to happen for the next six months, until the victim’s mother left her job. The People are charging the defendant with six separate counts of the same crime, one for every month, but Ms. Hays assured the jury it happened as often as two to three times a week.
When the alleged victim was in eighth grade, her mother came across her diary which read, “I wish I could tell her what happened, the reason he’s still here is because I can’t break her heart.”
After reading the journal, the alleged victim’s mother confronted her and she told her mom what had happened to her.
Mr. Borruso addressed the jury by saying this was a “she said, he said” problem.
He told the jury there was no evidence that could prove what the alleged victim’s diary said is true. Mr. Borruso also said the complaining witness was vague in her diary and did not specifically describe what had allegedly happened to her.
Mr. Borruso told the jury the girl’s mother had been a victim of sexual assault, and the subject was commonly talked about within the household. He said that, as a victim, the mother was paranoid and immediately interpreted her daughter’s words as suggesting sexual assault.
Mr. Borruso continued by telling the jury that the alleged victim’s journal contains several “attention-seeking statements” and revealed that she used to be suicidal.
He said the girl’s mother never confronted Mr. Cleveland about it, and instead moved her family out of the state after accusing him.
Mr. Borruso suggested that the only reason for filing charges against Mr. Cleveland is for the mother to keep full custody of her youngest daughter, whose biological father is Mr. Cleveland.
“In October 2010 Mr. Cleveland files for custody of his daughter and conveniently the allegations resurfaced,” Mr. Borruso said.
The victim, who is now 17 years old, appeared to be nervous as she took the stand to be examined by Ms. Hays.
She told told Ms. Hays that Mr. Cleveland was always nice to her and that some of the things they would do together as a family included going to dinner or the movies.
The alleged victim appeared to have a normal relationship with her stepdad until a few weeks after her mother had gotten a job that kept her away from home at night.
She recalled that Mr. Cleveland would make sure each child took a shower and was in bed by 8pm every night.
However, she said, sometimes after her brothers had already fallen asleep, she would get out of bed to play online games on the computer.
“I had to not have clothes on and had to sit on the chair,” the complaining witness said.
She said Mr. Cleveland would tell her the clothes had germs she couldn’t see and that’s why her clothes were dirty.
“Sometimes I would sit on his lap, sometimes he would touch me,” the alleged victim said as tears began to fall.
“I ignored it and played the game, pretended that it wasn’t happening,” she said.
When Ms. Hays asked her why she never told anyone, the witness said she didn’t think there was anything wrong and all she wanted was to play on the computer.
“I didn’t want to hurt [my mother] because I knew she loved him,” she said.
At this moment Judge Reed asked to break for lunch. The trial is expected to last until the end of the week.