by Danielle Silva and Lauren Zaren
The Chaotic Night of A Child Molestation Report
By Danielle Silva
Several officers responded to a past-midnight report of child molestation to encounter a car chase and a verbal confrontation.
On August 5, 2018, a Woodland woman reported an in-progress child molestation. Several officers responded to the call.
Corporal Richard Towle and Officer David Shepard of the Woodland Police Department drove to the location in two separate vehicles. As they neared the scene, they noticed two vehicles driving at a high speed. The first vehicle was a car with its headlights off and the second car followed close behind. Officer Shepard followed the first car while Corporal Towle pulled over the second car. Officer Towle stated these vehicles appeared unrelated to the report and they got the identification of the individuals of the second car before heading to the reported scene.
Another Woodland police officer who had arrived first at the scene witnessed a man and woman in a verbal confrontation with several quiet bystanders. The caller was also present, several houses down from where she had made the call. Due to the large group, the officer called in for back-up, which Corporal Towle had responded to. The first officer on the scene spoke with the caller who shared that there was a report of a child molestation.
The officer had also gone inside the house near where the couple had been yelling and noticed a man with a lacerated left ear and abrasions on his knees, holding his head. This man was the defendant, Lucio Antonio Paniagua. He would be asked repeatedly if he needed to be treated. Around this time, Detective Maribel Cortes arrived and went inside the house to examine the defendant. She instructed the officer to arrest Mr. Paniagua and have his clothes and a mouth-swabbed sample placed into evidence.
At around 3 a.m., Corporal Towle had gone to the home of the alleged victim. The 11-year-old girl explained that, during a baby shower at a nearby home, she had been playing Fortnite with two of her friends in one of the rooms. As they were taking turns, a man she didn’t recognize came in and called to her. He complimented her and hugged her about three times. The touching escalated to between her legs and then kissing her with his tongue. He went out to the backyard afterward. The juvenile cried and told her friends she didn’t feel safe.
In a later interview with Detective Cortes, the girl’s female friend stated she had seen the kiss, before changing her testimony. However, she maintained she had seen a man they didn’t know enter the room. The girl’s male friend had headphones on and didn’t see much. The friends were brother and sister and their mother had been present during the interviews. The mother had been in the bathroom when the incident allegedly occurred at the baby shower.
The girl went to an adult with the male friend and was driven home with her older sister. Her parents called the police after working to comfort her. Following that interview, the defendant’s clothes from the baby shower and a mouth-swabbed sample were placed into evidence. This evidence, along with the evidence from Mr. Paniagua, was examined by a criminalist in the Sacramento Crime Lab. These samples considered the DNA on the clothing in comparison to the mouth samples. While the criminalist couldn’t match the DNA to Mr. Paniagua because of the large number of contributors, likely DNA from other surfaces in the house, she also could not exclude any male DNA from being present.
In a later Multi-Disciplinary Interview conducted in child abuse cases to minimize trauma, the girl would also state that the man had a Spanish accent. Previously in this trial, however, she had not recognized the defendant in court.
The matter will resume this afternoon.
Defense Witnesses Testify in Molestation Trial
By Lauren Zaren
After technical difficulties, several defense witnesses contradicted the victim’s testimony.
With the start of the afternoon session, the court resumed a video of the now 12-year-old victim’s Multi-Disciplinary Interview (MDI). She was drawing a picture of the room where Mr. Paniagua allegedly touched her shoulder and back and French kissed her on three occasions during a baby shower in August of 2018.
The projector bulb malfunctioned after a few minutes, rendering the interview unwatchable. Judge Paul K. Richardson made the call to begin defense witness testimonies for the remainder of the day.
The first witness to testify was a 12-year-old student at Winters Middle School, who attended the party with her twin brother and younger sister. She is the niece of the suspect, Mr. Paniagua.
She explained that she lives in Winters and drove with her family to her aunt and uncle’s Woodland house that afternoon to visit, as they do regularly. After getting ready at her uncle’s house, she walked three or four houses down the block to the baby shower with her parents, twin brother, younger sister, aunt, and uncle.
This would be the family’s second time at a party hosted by these neighbors, the first time being the only other time she remembers interacting with them.
They arrived around 7pm and sat in the backyard eating tacos as a family. She remembered that her uncle left once to go into the host’s house during the meal, presumably to use the restroom. He saw that there was a line and decided to come back and ask his wife for their house keys so he could use their own restroom down the block.
At some point her uncle was asked by the host’s husband if the party could borrow his karaoke machine. Her uncle and father went down the block to the house, went to the bathroom while there, and brought back the machine a few minutes later.
They spent the rest of the party in the backyard setting up and managing the karaoke machine, with some help from the host’s husband.
The witness stayed with her siblings the whole time, playing on the trampoline and bounce house, riding bikes, and sitting with their family in the backyard. They went to the restroom in the host’s house once, and on the way out stopped for a few minutes in the bedroom where the incident allegedly occurred.
She said they were only there for a brief time and did not sit down or participate in the video gaming. They were just curious to see what the girl and boy in the room were doing. She remembers that the girl (the alleged victim) was sitting on the bed and the boy was sitting on the couch wearing headphones and playing Fortnite. She thinks this all happened around the time the sun set.
After a minute, the boy asked her twin brother if he would like a turn to play, and he said he would not. The girl did not talk to the siblings, but the witness remembered chatting with her momentarily at the bounce house earlier that evening. They then returned to the backyard with their family.
At one point, she went with her mother, aunt, and siblings back to her uncle’s house to use the bathroom, since they have two and the host only had one with a long line. She believed they were not gone for more than 10 minutes.
She remembered that her father and uncle were drinking beer from the start of the party, but her aunt and mother were not. Everything was going well until she saw a girl about her age crying. The host of the baby shower approached her husband and said that one of his friends “did something” to their niece.
The girl and her family left soon after her uncle was singled out and labeled as the suspect. The party guests were now gathered on the porch on the side of the house, near the garage.
She says a White man wearing a green t-shirt approached and punched her uncle, and then continued to beat him up. There was a second man also attacking her uncle but she was not able to describe him.
Quickly after this, she left with her family, including her uncle, back to their house down the block. Her uncle’s knees were bleeding, as he had been pushed to the ground in the driveway, and his ear was bloody as well from being punched.
He went to the bathroom to clean up while the children and their mother sat in a back room, scared and recovering from the events they had just witnessed. After some time, police started to bang on the front door, but she was still in the back room and did not see anything that happened next.
When she talked to investigators from the district attorney’s office in January, she did not remember if she told them about her uncle getting beaten up. She explained that she might have forgotten to include it when asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” and that she was not asked about the fight directly.
The second witness, the younger sister of the first, gave a very similar testimony. The 11-year-old’s story was consistent with her older sibling’s but she added a few more details.
She explained that her father got off of work at 6pm, then they drove to her uncle’s. The host’s husband knocked on her uncle’s door while they were at his house, inviting them to the event.
Like her sister, she claimed that there were only two children, the alleged victim and a boy, in the bedroom playing Fortnite. During the alleged victim’s testimony on Tuesday afternoon, she had repeatedly claimed that there were five or six children in the room including herself.
The witness said she saw her uncle leave the host’s house one time, through the garage door near the porch.
The girl had nothing but nice words about her uncle, that he plays Xbox with her and her siblings and always hugs them as a greeting, but has never kissed them or made any inappropriate advances.
When her uncle was accused, she said that she was unsure what had happened, but heard him say, “I didn’t do it,” before the fight started. Like her sister, she said that the investigators she talked to in January did not ask about the fight and she does not remember if she mentioned it. She also described a White man in a green shirt as the man who attacked her uncle.
Finally, she believed that around 10 minutes passed between the host becoming upset and her uncle getting beaten up. The rest of her story was nearly identical to her sister’s testimony.
The third witness was a 12-year-old boy, the twin brother of the first witness. He also gave a very similar testimony, remembering that they went to the bathroom in the host’s house once and stopped by the bedroom where the alleged victim was waiting to play Fortnite, around the time the sun was setting.
The only difference in his story was that there were three or four kids in the room, the victim, a boy, and two other Hispanic boys who then accompanied them to play on the trampoline in the front yard.
He recounted talking to the alleged victim briefly at the bounce house and gave the same description for the man who punched his uncle, originally calling him “ninja turtle guy” because his green shirt had characters from the old TV show.
A fourth witness began his testimony, but was not able to finish before the session ended. He is the father of the three earlier witnesses. He confirmed that he had only met the host and her husband on one other occasion, at a previous party they attended. He remembered sitting with Mr. Paniagua to eat and then operating the karaoke machine.
Granted that the technical difficulties are resolved, the trial will resume Friday morning in Department 13 with the continuation of the victim’s MDI. The fourth witness was called back to continue his testimony on Tuesday.