“I don’t see him” [in the courtroom].
By Lauren Zaren
A Maxwell Elementary School student from Woodland approached the witness stand this afternoon to testify as the victim in a new child molestation case. She is now 12 but was only 11 when the incident allegedly occurred at her aunt’s baby shower in August of 2018. The suspect is being charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14.
She frequents her aunt’s house to play with her cousin, who is one year her senior. It was a hot evening in August when she was dropped off at the house for the baby shower, although she couldn’t remember by whom.
There was a bouncy house, plenty of food and cake, and a lot of familiar faces. She played around outside for a while, and then was invited inside by some family friends to play Fortnite.
Five or six children gathered in her older cousin’s bedroom, where the gaming console was located, and they took turns sitting on the sofa and playing the game. While she sat on the bed waiting for her turn, the victim noticed a Hispanic man enter the room and stand by the doorway.
When Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays asked the alleged victim if the man was in the courtroom, she said no, she didn’t see him.
The victim testified that the man was an adult with a Spanish accent. After entering the room, he motioned for her to come using his pointer finger. She says that the man was a stranger and she pointed at herself, mouthing, “Who, me?” to which he nodded. She got up from the bed and approached the man.
She asked, “What can I do for you?” He told her she was nice and that he did not like Fortnite. She thanked him for the compliment. He then put one hand on her right shoulder and another on her lower back.
The victim said at this point she felt worried and confused.
She couldn’t remember if he removed his hands when he told her to turn and face him, although she explained that she wasn’t turned forcefully. Then he kissed her, “on the lips and mouth and inside my mouth around my tongue.” She called it a French kiss, a term she learned from “grown-up TV shows.” Then the man left the bedroom, and the victim went back to sitting on the bed, waiting her turn to play Fortnite.
Shortly after, the man returned, repeating the same phrases and actions a second time. She said that this time she tried to block the kiss by keeping her lips closed, but he “kept licking them with the French tongue kiss.” After he left the second time, she went to the bathroom to wash her mouth out.
At this point the alleged victim was still debating whether to tell an adult about these events.
It was finally her turn to play and she went and sat on the edge of the couch next to her family and friends, that she believes were around 6 to 10 years old. While she was playing, holding the console with both hands, the man entered the room a third time, walked over, and sat next to her on the couch. He French kissed her a third time then left. She does not remember what in order she and the other children were sitting in on the couch.
After this, she told her 10-year-old friend that she felt unsafe. She does not remember if she went into detail about the man’s actions. Her friend told her to go tell an adult.
She says the man didn’t talk to any of the other children. She added that none of them saw this happen. Although the events took place in a small bedroom, the children were focused on the video game. Even her 6- and 10-year old friends had not seen the events.
She also commented that she didn’t want to tell any of the other children (besides her two friends) because she “didn’t want them getting involved” or “up in my business.” She also admitted that she was worried they wouldn’t believe her.
After talking to her 10-year-old friend, she went with him to the front yard where her aunt was and told her everything that had happened to her. She said she was crying by the end of her explanation and her aunt and other spectators were also visibly upset.
She was comforted by family friends and her older sister, while her aunt went to look for the suspect. She pointed him out and the victim confirmed that was the man, but does not remember if this occurred inside or outside the house.
She went home and was allowed to sleep in her parents’ bed for extra peace of mind, just for the night. She spoke to police the next day and participated in a Multi-Disciplinary Interview (MDI) a few days later.
Ms. Hays closed her questioning by asking how the victim felt about being a witness. She replied that she didn’t know how to feel, but that she wanted to put the “bad man away in jail forever.” She denied allegations that she made up the events as a story for attention.
The second witness was the victim’s mother. She shared some things about her child – that she doesn’t enjoy school, but has never had behavioral issues. There was mention that her daughter could be on the autism spectrum, and had been in special education classes, but no longer. Her mother speculated that she would describe herself as unique. Questions about the possibility that the young girl was making up the accusation for attention were discussed.
The mother had work the day of the baby shower and could not remember if she was the one to drop her daughter off before her shift. She returned to the party around 9pm and identified the suspect standing by the karaoke machine with another man. He looked familiar, and she believes he had attended their family events at least once before.
Her only interaction with him was communicating which song she wanted to sing at the karaoke booth. She remembers he spoke in broken English. She was not informed of the events concerning her daughter until she got a phone call from her sister (the victim’s aunt and host of the party), around 10:30pm.
The victim’s mother will continue her witness testimony on Wednesday morning at 8:45 in Department 13.