by Carly Gunn and Sufi Sadati
Opening Arguments in Molestation Trial
by Carly Gunn
Can an entire case rest upon a victim’s statement?
Department 13 held two opening statements for a long trial ahead. Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays, for the People, gave her opening statement with swiftness and conviction. She began to tell the story of an alleged molestation of a young girl.
The night when havoc was wreaked and chaos rose into flames was August 4, 2018. On that warm August night friends and family gathered at a baby shower in a Woodland neighborhood. Lucio Paniagua, the defendant, was at this baby shower with his wife and in-laws. As the nice night drew into the late evening and the stars began to make their nightly appearance, the alleged victim and her friends sat in a room and played the video game Fortnite.
According to Ms. Hays, Mr. Paniagua asked to speak with the victim. The victim claimed she did not really know him, but began to speak with him anyway. The victim stated that he said hello, paid her a compliment then continued with a hug. That hug then supposedly was followed by his turning her around and hugging her from behind.
After this, the victim was turned once more and was facing Mr. Paniagua. Now, face to face, the man allegedly put his tongue into her mouth and tried to “French kiss” her. The victim, instantly confused and upset, ran back to the room and told the other children who were still playing video games.
The other children advised her to go tell an adult, and the victim then told her aunt (the pregnant woman). After this, the night was no longer a relaxing family gathering, but a hectic crime scene that turned into a man being charged with three counts of Penal Code section 288.
The aunt confronted Mr. Paniagua then called the alleged victim’s parents. The victim’s parents arrived and the victim’s father physically injured Mr. Pariagua. By 3am the house was flooded with crime scene detectives and police officers investigating the scene. After painting a picture of the victim’s night and testimony, Ms. Hays told the jury some things they should be expecting to see.
She emphasized the fact that children struggle with thinking linearly and that the victim’s testimony is not in a linear fashion, but that should not distract the jurors from the truth. Hays addressed that the victim’s testimony may appear in a different form, but the relevant information still remains. Hays further addressed that Mr. Paniagua’s DNA was not found on the victim’s clothes or in her mouth and that the forensic examiner would explain possible reasons for that. This information concluded the People’s opening statement.
The defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Monica Brushia, began her opening statement by stating the claims were about cultural customs, not molestation. Ms. Brushia focused on Mr. Paniagua’s actions and the night which he was spending with his wife and in-laws. She stated that he does briefly use the restroom in the house, but does not spend any additional time inside.
She further said that Mr. Paniagua did in fact hug the victim, but nothing further, and continued to go outside after the brief interaction. The defense attorney focused on how many times the victim’s story had changed and the location in which the alleged molestation occurred. The victim’s first statement claimed it occurred in the kitchen, her second statement said it was on the couch in the bedroom, and the third claimed it was in the bedroom but nowhere specific.
However, the two other children that testified stated they did not see anything happen. Lastly, the defense attorney focused in on the fact that this case only stands upon a victim’s inconsistent statement.
Parents of 11-Year-Old Testify in Molestation Trial
By Sufi Sadati
A case riddled with good intentions but contradictory statements, the trial of Lucio Antonio Paniagua, who faces three counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor under the age of 14, reconvened Wednesday morning under Judge Paul Richardson’s watch.
Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays began her questioning with the victim’s mother taking the stand. The mother began describing how she arrived at the cousin’s baby shower around 9:00 pm on August 4, 2018, after receiving a call that her daughter had been assaulted.
Right before the mother and her husband were about to make their way to her cousin’s house, her eldest daughter and the 11-year-old alleged victim appeared at the house, terrified.
She noted the victim was crying, saying, “Daddy, he put his tongue in my mouth,” and recalled her smelling of men’s cologne. Both parents asked their eldest to watch after the victim while they made their way to the scene of the event. Self-assessing herself in that moment as incredibly angry, the mother’s purpose of going to the party was to confront the abuser.
“I wanted to ask him what was sexy about an 11-year-old with dirt on her face and candy in her teeth.”
At the cousin’s house, a mere five-minute drive away, she met up with her cousin, “EB” and EB’s husband “RC,” until police showed up. The police did take DNA swabs of the victim.
Deputy Public Defender Monica Brushia cross-examined the witness, specifically about her daughter’s diagnosis of autism. Explaining the ranges a child may fall on the Independent Education Plan (IEP) scale, a 2017 report used to determine strong associations of autistic disorder had categorized the victim as scoring in the moderate range of social assessment.
“SD,” the victim’s father, expressed he was “irate” when he arrived at the alleged abusers’ home, although he had no idea who the man was or what he looked like. He began punching the door of who he assumed to be the assailant. However, he stressed, “I never beat him, I never saw him get beat up, I never even saw him that night.”
The youngest witness of the day was EB’s daughter who is merely eight years old and was playing video games in the same room as the victim.
The witness, her older brother, the victim, and another boy were playing Fortnite when she remembers the victim following the abuser to the kitchen where she heard a kiss sound. When the victim returned, the witness testified the victim told her, “The man in the kitchen just kissed me on the lips,” after ushering her over with his finger.
Apparently, she took the victim personally to find an adult, where she claims she did all of the talking because the victim was scared.
Ms. Brushia asked if anyone was on the couch in the room, and she denied this.
When questioned why she would have forgotten to mention these facts, mainly the kissing sound, to the police, she said she forgot.
Her brother, age 10, followed afterward.
Contrary to his sister’s account, he mentioned all of the children were seated on a recliner chair that could fit four facing the television set. The seating arrangements from left to right were the victim, the witness, his sister, and a nameless boy. The left side of the recliner was facing farthest from the door.
“I thought he knew her, I thought they were related,” he added, after asserting he saw the mystery man holding and kissing the victim. Afterward, she supposedly confessed what happened, stating, “I am scared he’s going to hurt me.” The witness said he took her to tell adults.
The People projected pictures of the room where a large recliner chair faced the television as previously described.
Redirect questioning reminded the witness he had told officers that day he had not seen or heard anything due to the headset he was wearing. In a matter of moments, he retracted his previous statement and admitted he had not actually seen her being kissed.
Hays afterward called “JN,” the mother of two of the children, who was also present during the party.
Having seen the defendant at other parties, she knew him as EB’s neighbor, who usually brought his family and karaoke machine.
Fuzzy on the timeline of events that occurred almost a year ago, she acknowledged that her statement given during the time of the event was “more accurate than today.” Brushia used this to solidify that the JN had never actually see the victim confess, but heard everything through EB.
EB’s testimony conveniently followed. Pregnant at the time, her baby shower was filled with family and friends – some of whom were her husband RC’s soccer mates.
Upon a large sheet a paper is where she drew the floor plan of her home for the jury. The main points to be highlighted were the location of her son’s room where the children played video games. It has a nearby back door which leads to the backyard, where the majority of the party took place. In order to reach the bathroom, one would either have to enter through the front of the house or the back door, passing the video game room, where the bathroom was next door.
Throughout the night, the bathroom closest to the video game room was used as the guest room.
To her, Mr. Paniagua was her husband’s soccer companion and happened to live across the street. The day of the assault, he had brought his wife and other family members, and this was nothing out of the ordinary.
One of her younger sons and the defendant had a good relationship where she described him as being “very playful.”
Converse to the previous statements, EB remembered the victim approaching her on her own, obviously upset, disclosing, “I don’t want you to be mad at me, but some man came and took me into the kitchen and kissed me with his tongue,” and EB added she might have smelled cologne on her.
Regarding the previously mentioned hug, she clarified the victim told her it was from behind – a way in which she described as “only being sexual.”
The victim then pointed out to EB a man in a black shirt, and the witness identified that man in court as the defendant.
EB claimed she spoke privately with Mr. Paniagua, and he denied the accusation, saying, “No, I didn’t do that.” He left, but not before she informed him she was calling 911.
The 911 audio was played from that night, and in the background could be heard a series of obscenities and shouting that was later revealed to be the parents of the victim.
“He’s hiding in his house because the parents want to hurt him because he touched their baby,” the witness relayed to the 911 operator.
EB explained the yelling as the parents of the victim storming the front of the defendant’s house, where he had locked himself inside.
In cross-examination, the witness was asked if she was aware Mr. Paniagua was assaulted and that an ambulance was being sent to his house, and she replied she did not know that.
In fact, the paramedic who arrived at the scene shortly thereafter testified to examining the defendant around 2:30 am.
Other facts which came to the surface included that the victim herself never mentioned to EB that the man called her over, a detail that the eight-year-old playing with her had offered up to adults.
Running around the house, she did attest to seeing the defendant with her husband drinking beers, stating, “It looked like he had been there awhile.”
Her husband, RC, who originally invited the defendant over, testified that Mr. Paniagua had mentioned needing to use the bathroom three separate times.
The first time he heard the defendant asking his wife for the key to their home to use their bathroom, the other two he specifically asked permission to use the bathroom of his hosts – a factor of transparency Brushia highlighted.
There was never any indication the man had sat by the victim while she played video games, which the victim had testified to earlier in the trial.
The trial is set to reconvene with multiple witnesses to be called by both the People and the defense.