By Penelope Tsiopos
On the morning of April 5, the trial of the People v. Margarito Alvarez reconvened. Three witnesses were called to the stand. The first witness, a female sixth grader, was examined and cross-examined for the majority of the session. After she identified the defendant, she said that she had not liked him from the start.
Two years ago she shared a room with her sickly mother and sister. Her sister and mother would share the larger bed while she would sleep on the single bunk bed. She claimed that when Mr. Alvarez would visit them, he would sometimes climb through the window. Mr. Alvarez was involved with the witness’ mother. Originally he would sleep on the floor and then eventually he began to sleep beside her. On one of these nights she claimed he raped her.
The prosecution, represented by Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays, asked why she did not tell anyone, to which she replied that she was afraid that her mother would go to the hospital or that he would harm her sister. She said that she only told her two closest friends and one of them told the principal, who then called the police.
When the defense was cross-examining her, the attorney asked if she and her sister had a deal to lie and the sister would cover for her. The defense asked why she did not disclose this allegation in her 2017 Multi-Disciplinary Interview, also known as MDI. Originally she reported that he grabbed her bottom. She said that she did not feel comfortable telling the woman because the woman was a stranger. He then replied that everyone in the courtroom is a stranger.
The defense proceeded to ask if she received medical aid or if she thought to set aside the clothes and sheets from that night, and the answer was no. She said the rape left her motionless and scared.
The next witness called to the stand was the first witness’ sister. Her sister answered both the prosecution and defense questions with “I don’t know.” The judge had to take her phone away.
She stated that Mr. Alvarez seemed nice because he brought her chips. She also said that she was not aware of what was happening between him and her sister because she never heard or saw anything.
The third and final witness of the morning session was a social worker, Patrianit Paragas, who is also a child interview specialist. This woman has conducted at least 600 MDI interviews. She began to describe the 10-step process in interviewing children, aged 2-17, who experienced traumatic events.
These specialists are trained to ask specific questions using simple language that allows the children to feel comfortable. The room these specialists use has comfortable chairs and murals to make the children feel at ease. They wear earpieces during the interview so the people who watch them through the cameras can guide them.
She has participated in courses led by Tom Lyon, who has set the statewide standards in interviewing vulnerable children. She mentioned that she has seen the two other girls’ MDI interviews from 2011 but does not remember her reaction to them.
The trial paused for lunch and reconvened in the afternoon.