A Santa Maria man was found guilty Wednesday of sexually assaulting his niece, after three weeks of trial testimony and just under two hours of deliberations.
Everardo Antonio Valdez, 28, was convicted of the following felony charges: aggravated sexual assault of a minor; aggravated sexual assault of a minor by force; kidnapping to commit rape; lewd acts with a child under 14; and oral copulation with a minor.
Valdez now faces 45 years to life in prison. It is alleged that the victim, his niece Jane Doe, who is 11 years younger than him, didn't disclose the abuse until 2013, when she came forward to a Child Welfare Service employee.
It's further alleged that the incidents occurred multiple times in the Valdez's Chaparral Street home in Santa Maria between 2005 and 2007, when Doe was between the ages of 5 and 7 and Valdez was about 16.
The law states that to convict an individual of aggravated sexual assault of a child, there must be at least a seven-year age difference between the perpetrator and victim.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Brandon Jebens, who led the prosecution team, expressed his happiness with the jury's decision.
"It's been a long time [for the case] going through the court system," he said. "[Valdez] was arrested in 2015, and in 2018, we're finally getting justice for the victims, so I'm happy."
Valdez's defense attorney Adrian Andrade declined to comment following the verdict.
In his closing arguments, Andrade maintained that accusations against his client were borne out of anger and hatred stemming from a bitter divorce in 2008 between Doe's parents, and that the child "practiced her story 10 to 15 times" with law enforcement to perfect it.
"There was hatred and loathing against the Valdez family," Andrade began. "That was clear. But the late reporting [to police] is a factor you can consider when evaluating whether someone is telling the truth."
Andrade pointed out that the abuse wasn't disclosed until 2013, after Doe got into a physical fight with her grandmother.
"[Doe] got her story straight," Andrade added. "The prosecution asked Mr. Valdez question after question, and he was consistent. I'll submit to you he was telling the truth."
Andrade further noted that Doe's testimony wasn't reliable, when she claimed her older brother Fernando knocked on Valdez's bedroom door and asked what he was doing during one of the alleged incidents.
"Fernando testified that never happened," argued Andrade, who added Fernando claimed, while on the stand, that none of the events occurred.
Andrade also reminded jurors that character evidence proves Valdez is not a sexually-deviant person and further points toward reasonable doubt about the accusations.
"The people who know Everardo are his family, and they'll tell you about his character," he said. "His family know him and testified that he doesn't do these things."
During Jebens' rebuttal, he refuted Andrade's arguments, reminding jurors that Doe waited for years to report the abuse as she believed there was nobody she could talk to.
"Doe only reported it in 2013; the incidents didn't happen in 2013," Jebens began. "Two years went by before Detective Stowasser picked up the case and brought it to court; that's not Doe's fault."
When Doe met with police 10 to 15 times, it wasn't to "practice her story" but, rather, to disclose what happened.
"There's no evidence that anyone coached her. If so, it would have been a perfectly outlined statement," he continued.
Doe also exuded the appropriate emotions on stand, Jebens said, and testified that she felt embarrassed and regretted not yelling louder for help, rather than yelling at her uncle to get off her.
While the defense relied on character witnesses, expert Dr. Anthony Urquiza testified it's not uncommon for people close to an abused child to have no clue as to what's going on, Jebens reminded jurors.
"Several of the character witnesses said their opinions wouldn't change if they heard [Valdez] confessed to the crimes," he added. "That [means] they have loyalty to the person no matter what the person does. So how can you really respect their opinion? Where does the loyalty and bias lie?"
The only one who admitted they would change their opinion, while on the stand, was Doe's father, who is also Valdez's brother.
Valdez returns to court May 3 for sentencing.