By Michael Wheeler
SACRAMENTO, CA – Judge Stephen Acquisto was given an unpleasant task in Sacramento County Superior Court last week—presiding over multiple preliminary hearings involving child molestation charges.
Both cases involved a stepfather or father molesting their child, and both are set to go to trial later this year.
The first case heard was that of Mario Martinez, who pleaded not guilty to one charge of committing a lewd or lascivious act with a child under the age of 14. The victim had been staying at Martinez’s house at the end of May 2020 when, while sleeping together, Martinez allegedly rubbed the victim’s genitals under the covers.
When the mother, who is divorced from Martinez, picked the child up from Martinez’s home, she was told by the child what had happened. During a recorded pretext phone call between the mother and Martinez, Martinez made admissions to the mother about his actions, while also denying in the same conversation that anything had happened.
He “frequently asked if he was going to see his daughter again,” and told the mother that in the future, the child would sleep in a different room than him. He also guaranteed that no molestation would occur again. His arraignment is scheduled for April 12 at 8:30 a.m. in Dept. 62.
In the second case, Emilio Lopez was charged with seven counts relating to the molestation of his stepdaughter.
The first witness called, Det. Ruben Pena, gave testimony as to the principal incidents in question. Upon arriving home, the mother of the victim saw a light on underneath her bedroom door, and a sound like that of a tablet.
Upon entering the room, she saw the victim’s stepfather on his knees molesting the victim. Realizing that she had entered the room, the defendant flipped around and said, “I f****d up, I f****d up, I’m f****d.”
During a SAFE interview, the victim told social workers that “[Lopez had] been touching her in a not good way for a while.” That started when she was 10 years old, had happened in multiple rooms of the apartment, and had occurred more than once.
Defense attorney David Bonilla largely did not contest that the alleged incidents had taken place.
Instead, he focused on the third count of false imprisonment, relating to the defendant taking the victim by the hand and forcibly pulling her to the bedroom, as well as questioning whether the specific number of incidents had been reliably reported by the victim.
“The court is aware that the DA has alleged force and violence. The force that’s spoken about in that particular count for that particular charge needs to be force, it must be substantially different from or substantially greater than the force needed to accomplish the act itself. I don’t know if that has met the threshold at this preliminary hearing, of just taking her by the hand and leading her to the room before the act is even started,” he said.
Deputy District Attorney Nancy Cochrane vehemently countered that argument.
“I don’t think that Mr. Bonilla’s rendition of taking a child by the hand and just leading her down the hall to the bedroom is what was conveyed here today. Mr. Lopez wanted (her) in the bedroom. He went to the living room. He grabbed her by the hand. He forced her down the hallway into that bedroom, which by all accounts is potentially a kidnapping. That is a kidnapping, a potential kidnapping charge,” she argued.
Judge Acquisto stated that he felt that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the defendant was likely guilty of the charges. The case is scheduled to go to trial May 29.
Michael Wheeler is a junior at UC Davis, where he studies History and Economics. He is from Walnut Creek, California.
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