Chilling video shown at trial
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.
The mother of Luis Ponce’s victim sobbed into her hands Wednesday as she reluctantly watched a video of him abusing her 1-year-old girl.
Ponce allegedly taped the video himself about six years ago, and now it’s being used as evidence against him in Nevada County Superior Court.
Wednesday was the first day of the trial against Ponce, arrested in January 2006 and charged with 16 counts of aggravated child molestation.
Ponce sat in his chair with his head drooping as jurors, lawyers and Nevada County Judge Ersel Edwards watched a video of Ponce touching the child in a sexual manner. The baby repeatedly tried to crawl away and Ponce pulled her back to him.
A few times during the filming of the video, Ponce glanced at the camera.
The mother tried to watch the footage Wednesday at Deputy District Attorney Charles O’Rourke’s request, but she had to look away after about a minute into the seven-minute video.
Lead investigator, Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeff Pettitt, didn’t watch.
The video had been cut down by investigators to feature each criminal act for which Ponce is charged. Jurors were scheduled to watch a total of about 30 minutes of video depicting two female victims.
One juror, a woman in her 40s with shoulder-length brown hair and glasses, put her hand over her mouth during the screening.
The rest of the jurors – most of whom are men – sat stoically with their eyes glued to the courtroom’s television screen. They had been instructed to watch and to refrain from emotional displays, according to court personnel.
After leaving the courtroom for a lunch break, a young man on the jury appeared shaken, putting his hand over his face.
The Berkeley Police Department launched the investigation into Ponce last year after one of his co-workers at the Berkeley Fire Department reported finding child pornography on a computer disc belonging to Ponce.
Ponce commuted to his job as a paramedic at the fire department from his house on Rattlesnake Road in Grass Valley.
Berkeley police obtained a warrant and searched Ponce’s work locker.
On Wednesday, Berkeley Police Det. Angela Hawk, testified officers found an “enormous amount of evidence,” including five video tapes.
Hawk contacted the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office because it appeared some of Ponce’s crimes had occurred in Nevada County.
Local officials viewed the tapes and obtained a warrant to search Ponce’s home on Jan. 26, 2006, where more evidence was located.
Ponce is charged with 16 counts, including eight counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child involving oral copulation; one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child; four counts of a forcible 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.
Ponce was arrested and remains incarcerated at Wayne Brown Correctional Facility in lieu of $2 million bail.
If convicted on all counts, he faces a minimum of 45 years to life in prison; it is possible for the sentences to be served one after another, District Attorney Cliff Newell said.
“He’ll never see the light of day again if he gets convicted on some of the counts,” Newell said.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today in the county courthouse in Nevada City.
To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4236.
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