Case moves toward verdict
Editor’s note: The molestation trial of Luis Ponce includes material presented in court that is deeply disturbing, and The Union advises caution in the reading of this story.
Jurors in the child molestation case against Luis Ponce Jr. are set to deliberate today after hearing closing arguments in which the defense asked them to convict his client on lesser charges.
David Billingsly, Ponce’s attorney, asked the jury to exercise its option of convicting his client of charges which exclude the element of force.
“Molestation can occur without force,” Billingsly said, when “someone is not cognizant of the act occurring.”
Nine of the 16 counts Ponce is facing include the element of force, which can mean a longer sentence for the defendant, who taped himself touching two little girls. Five clips from the tapes were presented in court last week as evidence by Deputy District Attorney Charles O’Rourke.
One child was between 12 and 18 months old and the other girl was between 2 and 3 years old.
Billingsly admitted the footage was “disturbing and disgusting,” but he argued the victims were not old enough to be aware of the nature of the crimes Ponce was committing.
One of the girls also had a developmental disability, which Billingsly argued detracted from her understanding what Ponce was doing to her.
Instead of force, he said, Ponce used manipulation and exploitation to achieve the abuse.
But O’Rourke argued the girls did try to get away from Ponce in every way they could.
“Those two little children were not willing to participate,” O’Rourke said. “They did kick. … They did scoot away. Time after time, we saw that action took place.”
If the jury were to find Ponce guilty of the lesser charges, he would still face “substantial” prison time, Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell said.
If Ponce is convicted on the charges as they stand, he could face at least 45 years to life behind bars.
“Our best evidence were those five video clips,” O’Rourke said. “They said everything. They’re more meaningful and disturbing than anything I have to say.”
The charges against Ponce include eight counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child involving oral copulation; one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child; three counts of a forcible lewd act upon a child; one count of a lewd act upon a child; and three counts of sexual penetration by a foreign object when the victim is unconscious of the nature of the act.
Billingsly is scheduled to wrap up his closing argument this morning beginning at 9 a.m. and O’Rourke is entitled to a rebuttal. The jury is then scheduled to deliberate.
To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail robynm@the union.com or call 477-4236.
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