By Michael Wheeler, Joe Cormac, Tatiana Gasca
SACRAMENTO, CA — Despite an apparent misstep by the prosecutor, defendant Thomas XX* was ordered held to account during his preliminary hearing this week in Dept. 9 of the Sacramento County Superior Court—for nine counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14.
(*The Vanguard has chosen to not use the defendant’s real name to protect the identity of the victim.)
Despite being held to account, Judge Helena Gweon did not schedule a trial. Instead, at the request of private defense attorney Richard Dudek, she scheduled an arraignment for July 13 in Dept. 61.
The prosecutor relied upon the testimony of detective Ruben Peña, a child abuse detective with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department who was assigned the case on June 15, 2020, by the Child Abuse Bureau.
A SAFE (Special Assault Forensic Evaluation) interview was conducted by a trained social worker, who questioned the victim about the incident. The purpose is to create a secure environment for the victim and memorialize the interview without additional traumatization.
When the victim was asked about her connection to the defendant, detective Ruben Peña responded, “She identified him as Thomas XX, her stepfather, but she called him dad.” The victim reported her abuse in June 2020 after it intensified.
Peña testified that the abuse began at the victim’s primary household, when she was about seven or eight years old. The defendant would come into the bedroom and commit inappropriate acts while the victim was asleep.
“She said she would ask him to stop,” stated Pena, but sometimes XX would continue his actions and laugh about it. XX would leave the room and act like nothing happened the following day.
By 2018, the defendant and victim had moved into a new residence where the abuse began to escalate. The defendant’s inappropriate behavior would occur much more frequently as they moved into a new household. The victim recalled that she was just 10 years old at the time.
As the allegations of abuse spanned years, the prosecutor raised the question of whether the victim had ever disclosed the abuse to anybody. Peña replied, “She said the disclosure happened while she was getting in trouble, and in somewhat of an argument with her mother. That the disclosure came out.”
The prosecutor charged XX with acts of abuse continuing up until the victim reported him.
However, Judge Gweon found that the witness’ testimony only dealt with the earlier acts of abuse and lacked evidence regarding the defendant’s later acts.
The prosecutor argued the witness’ testimony implied these later acts. She also requested the court’s permission to recall the witness for clarifications regarding various ambiguities, including the defendant’s age at the time of the alleged crimes.
Defense attorney Dudek objected, and the court decided to not allow a recall of the witness. However, Judge Gweon also ruled that upon reviewing court transcripts, they could sufficiently say the defendant was 18 or older at the time of his actions.
In this context, Judge Gweon ruled there was enough information to hold the defendant to account for the first nine counts but not enough information to go forward with the latter three counts.
Michael Wheeler is a junior at UC Davis, where he studies History and Economics. He is from Walnut Creek, California.
Tatiana Gasca is a fourth year student at UC Berkeley, double majoring in Legal and Ethnic Studies. She is from Santa Ana, CA.
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