Mountain View Voice

News - February 11, 2011

Jury has tough decision in Carbajal case

by Nick Veronin

As theVoice was going to press Wednesday afternoon, Pedro Carbajal — the Mountain View man accused of sexually assaulting and molesting three of his young nieces — was awaiting a verdict from a jury that began deliberations shortly before noon on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

It was uncomfortably warm in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Griffin M. J. Bonini on Monday, Feb. 7, as the lawyers for the prosecution and defense laid out their closing arguments — both of them coming to equally unsettling conclusions about the events that led up to the accusations of rape and molestation facing the man who co-founded and coached in the Amigos League, a soccer program for at-risk youth.

Dan Fehderau, deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County, maintained that Carbajal was guilty of all the charges against him — including two counts of sexual assault on a child; two counts engaging in a lewd and lascivious act on a child by force or through fear; and two counts of engaging in a lewd and a lascivious act on a child.

Defense lawyer Darby Williams insisted that the jury find her client not guilty on all charges — attributing the accusations to a small but weighty lie, uttered two years ago, that snowballed into an impossibly tangled web of lies and has perhaps even resulted in false memories.

"A child shouldn't know what it's like" to be sexually molested by a trusted family member, Fehderau said. "They don't have false memories. They are, in fact, victims."

"The victims in this case had good reason to keep their mouths shut," Fehderau told the jury in his hours-long closing argument in the Hall of Justice in San Jose. "Who is going to believe a kid, that his uncle, beyond reproach, would have done something so horrible?"

He repeatedly emphasized that the three girls — who were all between the ages of 6 to 9 when the rapes and molestations are alleged to have occurred six to 11 years ago — had little to gain by coming before the court and telling their stories.

Anticipating that the defense would attempt to poke holes in the girls' testimony for being spotty and seeming incomplete in places, the deputy district attorney asked the jury to think about how difficult it must be to tell a room full of people — strangers and family members, alike — of the ordeals they have been through.

"Don't expect the girls to talk about these matters as if they were talking about the weather," he said.

Williams did ask the jury to consider whether they believed the girls' testimony, calling attention to some of their inconsistencies, gaps in memory and continually returning to the fact that the girls all started out with broad accusations and gave more details over time — which, Williams said, was a "perfect example" of how children make up stories.

She acknowledged that it was hard for her to get up in front of the jury and claim that the girls were lying, but maintained that she believes that they are.

The first lie, she said, was told by the youngest of the sisters during a meeting with a school probation officer. The officer asked whether the girl had ever been molested, and she said yes, "not knowing" what would come of it, Williams argued.

It was all downhill from there, as police became involved, interviewing the other two sisters over a period of time, Williams argued. The girls were all talking to each other, comparing notes and for their own reasons involving themselves in the fiction, she told the jury.

"How do you tell a family for two years that you have been telling a massive, horrific lie?" Williams asked.

She reminded the jury that if they have a reasonable doubt as to Carbajal's guilt that they must find him not guilty.

Carbajal has claimed his innocence since his arrest in February 2009 — reiterating under oath that he did not inappropriately touch his nieces.

"I did not do this," said Carbajal, who claims he still loves his nieces. "I wish I could understand them."

A group of Carbajal supporters, at times numbering more than 28, seemed to buy into Williams' argument. The group included both family members and friends of Carbajal. They filled nearly all the seats on Carbajal's side of the stuffy courtroom for the duration of the proceedings.

In addition to coaching the soccer league for at-risk youth, Carbajal volunteered in other Mountain View community groups.

However, neither the show of support, nor Carbajal's connections to the community, altered the prosecution's view. In his closing argument, Fehderau again anticipated the tack Williams would take, countering that it didn't make sense that all three girls would maintain a lie for so long.

"They knew the consequences all along and they went forward because they were brave," he said.

Check the Voice website for updates on the verdict: www.mv-voice.com

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