By Rafiya Naqvi
CATHEDRAL CITY – This Riverside County Superior Court hearing began late last week with information provided by Police Sgt. Nathaniel Hanley that, during a physical examination, an 11-year-old minor disclosed to her doctor that she had experienced a sexual assault in her residence.
Hanley said he witnessed a forensic interview between the 11-year-old alleged victim and Child Forensic Interviewer Denise Bowman at the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center.
According to Hanley, the victim said the first incident of misconduct occurred in January of 2018 while she resided in an apartment with the defendant, Fermin Robles Castro, whom she referred to as her “tio” or “uncle.” There, she shared a single bedroom with her mother and two siblings.
Sergeant Hanley said she told him that she was home alone with Castro when he entered the room to ask for a hug and then left the room only to return a few minutes later, subsequently asking for a kiss—which she rejected. She was also asked to keep the incident from her mother.
Hanley also noted other incidents of abuse the young victim described in an interview, including one in which “she was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the kitchen” when the defendant had grabbed her face and subjected her to a “romantic kiss.”
The defendant was also accused of similar and more severe displays of abuse that occurred in days following. On one of the occasions, Castro was said to have gone so far as inappropriately touching the victim and proceeding to offer her $20 dollars, seemingly in exchange for her silence and compliance.
“Did she take the money?” Deputy District Attorney Gypsy Yeager inquired, to which Hanley responded, “No.”
Yeager then asked the witness if there were other instances of inappropriate behavior that the victim accused Castro of exhibiting, and Hanley continued to describe several other instances of alleged abuse that occurred around the same time, according to the alleged victim.
The defendant faces six counts for violating the clauses listed under Penal Code section 288 involving “lewd and lascivious acts with a minor child.”
During the hearing, defendant Fermin Robles Castro was also asked to temporarily remove his mask so that the witness could properly confirm his identity. Hanley affirmed that it was him, since he had met Castro when he made a visit to the police station to answer questions surrounding the accusations. Castro was reported to have said he was not sure why the victim and her family moved out of his residence.
Assistant Public Defender Charles Roby argued the crime Robles was accused of in the first count, the hug, was not overtly sexual in nature or “lewd” therefore did not constitute a violation of Penal Code section 288(a).
Judge Sterling found this to be the defense’s most compelling argument against one of the six counts, saying, “Count 1 is the one that I am not quite sure of…he gave the child a hug and beyond that nothing else,” but the judge was not entirely convinced by the arguments presented by the defense against the other five counts.
The defense also argued that when Castro grabbed her face prior to the kiss, Hanley described the victim as accusing the defendant of “not trying to overcome any force of hers,” and for these reasons Penal Code section 288 (b)(1) was not the appropriate charge, because it requires the “use of force” in committing an act.
District Attorney Yeager argued there is “implied duress,” which may be considered a type of force. She explained that this “implied duress” is the age difference, the fact that the victim considered Castro to be her “tio,” the disparity in size, and Castro being the head of the household which created an imbalance of power between the victim and the defendant and that might have coerced the victim to endure crimes without the initial use of force.
Judge Sterling ruled that he agreed with the defense in terms of Count 1 because of a lack of evidence that the hug was sexual. On the other counts, Sterling sided with the prosecution and agreed that Castro was in violation of Penal Code section 288(a)(1).
The defendant will return to court on Aug. 20 at 8:30 a.m. to further the arraignment process.
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