By Amy Schwanhausser
If you ask the same question twice, will you get the same answer? After three testimonies full of murky details, the timeline of a chaotic baby shower remains uncertain and complicated.
The trial of Lucio Antonio Paniagua, who is accused of molesting an 11-year-old, reconvened this morning in Department 13. The defense called two witnesses to establish the whereabouts of Mr. Paniagua during the baby shower where these incidents allegedly occurred. The prosecution called an expert witness to discuss the Multi-Disciplinary Interview (MDI) that she conducted with the alleged victim.
The defense called two witnesses, a husband and wife, who are the parents of three of the children who testified. The second witness is Mr. Paniagua’s sister-in-law, and has known him for around ten years.
For most of the evening, the two witnesses remained at a table in the back yard where they drank and sang karaoke with Mr. Paniagua.
Both witnesses claim that Mr. Paniagua left the back yard once, which they remember because he told them he was going to the bathroom. They say Mr. Paniagua went into the house, but returned after realizing the line was too long. He retrieved his own house keys from his wife and left to use the bathroom at his house nearby. They assumed that is where he was.
The two witnesses are not concerned about the safety of their children around Mr. Paniagua. Mr. Paniagua’s sister-in-law described him as friendly, stating that he gives her children a hug when he says hello and goodbye. They say their children confirmed that Mr. Paniagua had never acted in an inappropriate manner.
The only time they were concerned was when a fight broke out between Mr. Paniagua and a man wearing a green shirt. At this point, they were not aware of the allegations against Mr. Paniagua, but the husband remembers hearing Mr. Paniagua say, “I didn’t do anything. If I had known that would happen, I wouldn’t have come.”
Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays, for the People, then questioned their expert witness, Ms. Lepe. The prosecution first established Ms. Lepe’s credentials as a Forensic Interviewer. Then Ms. Lepe stated she had conducted the MDI with the victim and recalls following the proper protocols.
In the cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Monica Brushia questioned whether the alleged molestation was a false memory or a lie. The MDI’s protocols are meant to promote truthfulness, but truthfulness cannot be guaranteed. If a MDI was conducted twice, she wondered, would they result in the same answers?
Specifically, Ms. Brushia asked if the victim’s autism could have impacted her ability to tell the truth. Ms. Lepe did not believe it affected the victim’s ability to recall memories and give a cohesive statement. However, there are no official protocols for interviewing children with autism.
Furthermore, Ms. Brushia asked Ms. Lepe if the MDI’s protocols allowed for a culturally sensitive interview. There were concerns of bias since the victim, a white girl, accused a Latino man. Ms. Lepe said there are not additional protocols that factor in these details.
Ms. Brushia remained concerned that exaggeration, suggestibility, and attention-seeking could have motivated the victim to lie and make up these allegations.
Ms. Lepe’s testimony will be continued following the afternoon recess. Questioning is expected to resume its focus on the victim’s contradictory statements and implausible details. Additional witnesses are also scheduled to testify when the trial reconvenes.