By Taylor Smith
WOODLAND, CA – The accused was released from custody on Friday morning—despite protestations by the prosecutor and probation—after his hearing here in Yolo County Superior Court when a judge found that no one personally involved with the accused has said they fear for their safety around him.
The accused is charged with rape and assorted sexual assaults on a minor in 2004. He has had no further charges since this incident.
Joining him in the courtroom were two parents, and after welcoming them to the court, Judge Peter Williams stated, “I wanted you to represent to me in person and tell me that, in fact, you feel safe having [the accused] around the house and around your kids even if you’re not there, and if you can tell me that then I’m going to release him on SOR (supervised own recognizance) today.”
They both promptly informed the court that they are and always have been comfortable with the accused being around their children and even frequently leaving them alone with him. They explained that he has known their three children since each of them was born and that all of their family members enjoy his company.
Following this statement, the court heard from Deputy District Attorney Melinda Aiello, who argued “probation is not agreeing to supervised OR. The last line of the report indicates that the defendant is not suitable for release.”
Clearly not in agreement, Judge Williams retorted, “Well don’t they say why they feel that way? Isn’t it because of the minor kids in the home he will be returning to?”
Aiello clarified that the point Judge Williams made was noted as a “primary concern” in the report, but that there are many other factors to be concerned with.
“I am extremely concerned with the representations that were just made by Mr. and Mrs. Hargan in that if the court is even contemplating this, there needs to be an absolute no contact [clause] with children. This is just a recipe for disaster if they completely trust this individual to be around their kids at this point in time,” said Aiello in opposing release.
“I don’t think their representation that they are comfortable with him being in that home and with their children satisfies any public safety concerns,” she continued.
Judge Williams countered this by explaining his point of view. “Here’s where I’m left though, Ms. Aiello. I have the victim who says she’s not in fear of her safety. I have the parents of the children who have nothing to do with the original crime saying they’re not in fear of their safety. I can’t find anybody who is actually directly involved with [the accused] that is in fear of their safety.”
Aiello noted the victim is likely not concerned for her personal safety anymore because she does not live in the same area as the accused. She explained just because his victim has said she does not fear for her safety does not mean that the court should not fear for the safety of the public in general.
She also advocated for the three children who will be living with the accused upon his release, noting they may not be able to speak up on their own behalf. She recognized that the parents are doing what they think is best, but urged that in her specialization victims often don’t speak up, especially when it is someone who is known and welcomed into the family.
Again, Judge Williams rejected her argument, and asked, “Why do we feel we know better of the kids’ safety than the parents do?”
“I am wondering if the parents are even entertaining whether or not these allegations are actually true,” Aiello returned, not backing down from her stance on the matter. “If they don’t believe that he could actually do this, then I really question whether or not they are acting in the best interest of their children, because I’ve seen it before.”
The court then heard from Guillaume Denoix from probation, who interjected “although the author of the report indicated that they are not in fear of their safety, the department does not support the defendant’s release back to a household with children present in it.”
This sparked a conversation about the terms of the accused’s potential release. Judge Williams asked Aiello directly what terms she would like to see if he were to be released.
“In complete candor, your honor, not to be in that home,” she said. Knowing the judge was not going to agree to that, however, she suggested “if he could be in that home then he is not to be alone with those children. Any of them. I think that he should be subject to search at any time … to make sure that those children are not alone with him.”
Judge Williams and the deputy public defender both strongly rejected her suggestion.
“We’re gonna go back and forth on this for a long time,” Judge Williams realized before deciding to make his final decision and move along with the hearing.
Ultimately, he told the accused and the family he will be living with that he is going to let him out on supervised release and that he is absolutely not to be left alone with any of the children in that home.
“If we find out differently that, in fact, he is alone with any of the kids,” said Judge Williams sternly, “that is a violation of SOR and he’s gonna be sitting right back there.”
He confirmed that he would not be adding a search clause to the terms of his release on the premise that it is someone else’s home and it is too broad of a scope to justify a search.
Denoix clarified that there will be a search term inherently included in the contract as it is a standard term, and Judge Williams agreed that it was acceptable as long as its purpose remains to ensure that the terms of his release are being enforced.
“You’re going to go live with your foster sister and her husband. Don’t blow it, otherwise the conversation will go way differently next time,” Judge Williams said to the accused in closing.