On Tuesday it only took the jury about 90 minutes to acquit Lucio Paniagua of charges of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14. He had allegedly inappropriately hugged and French kissed an 11-year-old girl at a baby shower. However, as Deputy Public Defender Monica Brushia pointed out – given the nature of the incident, the lack of corroborating evidence played a role in the quick acquittal.
“I don’t believe there was sufficient evidence in this case,” Ms. Brushia told the Vanguard. “I don’t believe this case should (ever) have gone to trial – much less been charged by the People. There was no corroboration of the statements by a little girl.”
She explained that had this been an isolated event where the child was alone at the time of the alleged incident, “then I could see why” they would seek the case. “Sometimes children are put in those situations where you have to go to trial on that,” she said.
“But in this case, it’s a party and there’s other children in the room when the child is saying this happened to her – and no one sees that – so there’s no corroboration on that,” she said. “It’s not like it’s a touch on the arm that no one would see. It was an adult male French kissing a little girl. Everyone would notice that.”
She said, “When there is no corroboration of that, it should have never been brought to trial.”
Ms. Brushia added that “it’s one of those cases where the District Attorney’s office needs to better evaluate cases that they file against.”
Monica Brushia told the Vanguard that she stayed in the courtroom following the verdict to make sure her client was released from custody that same day – which she was able to do under Penal Code
Mr. Paniagua was in custody for eight months, since he was arrested in early August of last year. He was taken into custody in the early morning hours of August 5.
The day before, he had been invited to the baby shower by one of the hosts, and he brought his wife, sister-in-law, nieces, and brother-in-law.
In the trial, the defendant was only alleged to have been inside the house briefly. Ms. Brushia argued that the testimony of the child was that the man who touched her had come into the room multiple times – Ms. Brushia argued this could not be supported by the amount of time Mr. Paniagua had been gone from the backyard.
According to prosecutor, Deputy DA Deanna Hays, the adults learned about the allegation after the party – the girl told them and was visibly upset.
She tried to defuse the impact of the discrepancies in the children’s testimonies. She stated the children did not have time to conspire and fabricate an allegation against Mr. Paniagua.
In her closing, she argued that the defense would try to misdirect the case by pointing out the inconsistencies in the testimonies, claiming the police didn’t do a complete investigation, noting the defendant had been tested at low risk for child molestation.
But without more corroboration from the other witnesses, the jury clearly did not have enough to go on.
Monica Brushia told the Vanguard that she was able to briefly speak to two of the jurors downstairs following the verdict.
“They were happy for my client. They were happy for his family,” she said. “The sense I got was there was just lack of evidence” that led to the acquittal.
One of the big questions now is the safety of Mr. Paniagua.
Monica Brushia said she was hopeful he would be able to live a good and safe life at this point.
“I hope so,” she said. “I did caution him about staying in the area.”
The incident was alleged to have occurred in a location close to where Mr. Paniagua and his family live.
“I would want to walk around in my neighborhood and feel safe,” she said. “At the time this happened, he was assaulted and, according to the witnesses, no one saw anything. And it wasn’t investigated by the Woodland Police Department.
“I would not feel safe,” she said. “I cautioned (the family) about that.” If they are able to do it, she thinks they should relocate outside of the area.
“You don’t want to have to tell someone that, but, for his own safety, there was retaliation that night,” she said. “Now that he’s acquitted, I don’t know if there would be more retaliation.”
Despite the nature of the charges, Ms. Brushia said that Mr. Paniagua’s family stood by him during the trial.
—David M. Greenwald reporting