Priest’s alleged victims ready civil lawsuits

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — With Alejandro Castillo’s criminal case concluding with his sentencing Wednesday, his alleged sexual abuse victims are turning their attention to civil court.

Two brothers who say Castillo molested them three years ago are preparing to file a lawsuit next week against the priest, the Ontario church he oversaw, and the Diocese of San Bernardino, their attorney said.

A man who alleges Castillo abused him in Rialto in 2000 is also contemplating a lawsuit, his attorney said.

The Ontario brothers’ attorney, Rebecca Rhoades, said the brothers’ case will charge Castillo with sexual battery, sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other causes of action.

The diocese is included as a defendant because it was negligent in training and supervising Castillo, Rhoades alleges.

And after the boys’ family reported the alleged abuse, “They feel like they got shut out by the diocese,” Rhoades said.

Rhoades said she will file the case in West Valley Superior Court, though it will likely be transferred to a Los Angeles County judge responsible for hearing priest abuse cases, she said.

Castillo was first accused of molestation in 2008, by a man who said he was abused in Rialto in 2000 when he was 18. Castillo was accused again in 2008 or 2009 by a man who later withdrew his accusation.

Both allegations were deemed unfounded by an independent review board in the diocese, though a monsieur ordered Castillo to be trained “regarding establishing healthy boundaries with persons he ministers to,” Castillo’s probation report says.

“I’m not going to say whether we share the blame or not,” diocese spokesman John Andrews said. “I know we have taken a lot of steps since 2002 to protect children in our policies and our training, and to make sure this is something that’s emphasized.”

“Unfortunately taking those kinds of steps and being consistent and vigilant about it doesn’t mean these terrible and sinful things can’t happen,” Andrews said.

Andrews said that when the diocese learned last year of the Ontario boys’ abuse allegations, Castillo was suspended.

Andrews said the diocese paid transportation and lodging costs for a therapist from Mexico who the boys’ family requested for counseling. The family turned down other offers of assistance from the diocese, Andrews said.

“We’re very saddened at the very sinful and criminal acts that Father Castillo admitted in his guilty pleas,” Andrews said. “We believe the sexual abuse of a child goes against the fundamental teachings of the Catholic faith, not to mention the policies that we have in place in the diocese.”

Priest sentenced for lewd act on child


UPDATED at 1:45 p.m.

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A priest on Wednesday was sentenced to a year in jail and taken into custody for committing lewd sexual acts with a 12-year-old boy in his Ontario parish.

Father Alejandro Castillo, 58, was convicted in April of a felony count of committing a lewd act on a child. He pleaded no contest as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that carried a sentence of a year in jail.

That sentence was imposed Wednesday in West Valley Superior Court by Judge Jon Ferguson.

“To say you took advantage of a position of trust is an understatement,” Ferguson said.

Castillo was pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Ontario until mid-2010, after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced.

The allegations against Castillo are detailed in a sentencing report from the San Bernardino County Probation Department. The report was made public after Castillo’s sentencing.

According to the report, five of Castillo’s former parishioners have accused him of sexual misconduct, with the oldest alleged abuse occurring in 2000, when Castillo worked at a church in Rialto.

Prosecutors filed criminal charges against Castillo last year in connection with one alleged victim — a 12-year-old boy from Ontario who said he was abused in late 2008, according to the report.

Criminal charges were not filed in connection with the other four alleged victims — who include the 12-year-old boy’s 16-year-old brother — due to insufficient evidence or because the allegations are too old, Deputy District Attorney Karen Schmauss said.

The 12-year-old boy said that during overnight stays with Castillo at the church, Castillo touched the boy’s genitals and forced the boy to touch Castillo’s genitals, according to the report.

The boy said he would share a bed with Castillo during the overnight stays, the report says.

“We trusted Alex with our boys for many years, and he held them in his arms when they were babies,” the boys’ parents wrote in a statement that was read aloud in court.

“He was not only a spiritual leader but a father, family member, and most importantly a friend. We thought it was a dream, and then understood it was not.”

Castillo did not speak during the hearing. In comments to authorities after his plea, he said he was felt ashamed and “unworthy with God,” though he denied his abusive conduct was as extensive as alleged, according to the report.

A probation officer concluded in his report that Castillo “still does not seem to understand the seriousness of his behavior and the extent to which his actions harmed the victim.”

In addition to sentencing Castillo to a year in jail, Judge Ferguson placed him on probation for three years and told him he must register as a sex offender for life.

Castillo, who had been free on bail since November, was taken into custody at the end of the hearing.

Man pleads no contest in drunk driving death

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — An alleged drunk driver from Ontario pleaded no contest to a felony Monday in connection with a car collision that killed a 60-year-old man.

Jairo Gutierrez, 18, pleaded no contest to the charge — gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated — as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that carries a 4-year prison sentence.

Gutierrez is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 27 in West Valley Superior Court.

Jose Cortez of Ontario was killed May 19 when the 1996 Honda Sedan he was riding in was struck by Gutierrez’s 1999 Dodge Durango at Euclid Avenue and Philadelphia Street in Ontario.

Gutierrez’s, whose blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.10, collided with the other car after making an illegal left-hand turn, according to a police report contained in his court file.

Authorities initially identified Gutierrez as Jairo Gutierrez Zavala, but prosecutors changed the name used to identify him to Jairo Gutierrez.

Gutierrez remained jailed Tuesday in lieu of $750,000 bail at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

Murder trial begins in 19-year-old man’s slaying

A murder trial is under way in Pomona Superior Court for two men charged with fatally shooting a man last year in what prosecutors described as a gang-motivated crime.

Vincent Lopez, 18, and Miguel Ayala, 21, are accused of shooting 19-year-old Ramiro Chavez on Aug. 14, 2010 in the 500 block of Weber Street in Pomona.

Lopez is allegedly a member of a La Puente-area gang, and he and Ayala allegedly shot Chavez after Chavez said he was a member of a small “tagging crew,” according to testimony in an earlier hearing.

On Monday, attorneys began choosing jurors to hear the case. Jury selection is scheduled to conclude Tuesday, with opening statements coming Wednesday, a court staff member said.

Judge orders trial for man charged in girlfriend’s death


FONTANA — A judge ruled Friday that a 19-year-old man must stand trial on two counts of murder for allegedly killing his pregnant 17-year-old girlfriend and dumping her body in a trash can.

The ruling came after two witnesses — a Fontana police detective and a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy — testified in Fontana Superior Court about their investigation into the death of Anyssia Escamilla, whose body was discovered in a Corona landfill last year, three months after she went missing.

Her boyfriend, Jesus Francisco Avitia Jr., initially told investigators that Escamilla choked herself at his home.

He later confessed that he inflicted the girl’s fatal injuries, left her body in a trash can, and watched from a window three days later as her body was loaded into a garbage truck, according to Friday’s testimony.

In making his ruling, Judge Dwight W. Moore rejected an argument from Avitia’s attorney that the killing was voluntary manslaughter, committed in the “heat of passion” during an argument.

Leaving Escamilla’s body in the trash, Moore said, “is not remotely consistent with voluntary manslaughter. (It’s) as cold and unemotional an act as I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Avitia and Escamilla were both students at Bloomington High School, and they began dating in January 2009, Fontana police Detective Shawn Hare testified.

Escamilla discovered she was pregnant shortly before her death, and she and Avitia argued over whether she should keep the child, Hare testified.

On May 11, 2010, Avitia and Escamilla left Bloomington High between classes and went to Avitia’s home in the 10900 block of Sumac Court, Hare testified.

In interviews with Hare and San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy Jason Costa, Avitia initially said he and Escamilla argued in his bedroom, and she used two hands to strangle herself.

He later confessed that he put Escamilla in a choke-hold, and applied pressure to her neck for 5 to 10 seconds until he heard a pop, the witnesses testified.

Escamilla went limp in Avitia’s arms and showed no signs of life. Avitia said he panicked, covered his girlfriend’s body with two large trash bags, and loaded her into a trash can that he dragged to the side of his house, the witnesses testified.

Escamilla was 10 to 11 weeks pregnant at the time of her death, according to prosecutors.

Her body was discovered Aug. 4, 2010 at El Sobrante Landfill in Corona. Her remains were identified using dental records.

Avitia is next due in court Sept. 2. He remained jailed Friday in lieu of $2 million bail at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

Norco day care owner convicted of child abuse


CORONA — A Norco woman who operated a home-based day care was convicted of child abuse and battery Friday in connection with the alleged abuse of children in her care.

A jury deliberated four days in Corona Superior Court before convicting 42-year-old Connie Lynn Barrett of a felony and a misdemeanor, acquitting her on some charges, and announcing they were deadlocked on others.

A prosecutor called the mixed verdicts a “great victory.”

“I was happy that justice was done for Keyara and Kylie and their families, and I’m looking forward to getting justice for the other families also,” said Deputy District Attorney Elan Zektser.

Barrett is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 14, though she will likely be tried a second time for charges on which the jury deadlocked, Zektser said.

One felony, three misdemeanors and two key sentencing enhancements remain active against Barrett, according to court records.

Prosecutors accused Barrett of abusing seven children — four girls and three boys — between 2005 and 2008, when she operated a day care at her home in the 200 block of Seventh Street.

The most severely injured child was a 9-month-old girl named Keyara, who went into cardiac arrest at Barrett’s home on Aug. 12, 2008.

The girl remains in a vegetative state, unable to breathe, swallow or move without assistance, prosecutors said.

Barrett’s conviction on felony child abuse was for injuries suffered by Keyara, Zektser said.

Injuries suffered by the other six other children included broken ribs, a broken arm, and deep bruising, prosecutors said.

Barrett’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Melissa Hale, said during the trial that Barrett was wrongfully accused of injuring the children, who she said were hurt primarily through accidents and rough play.

Hale said Keyara’s health quickly worsened while she was at Barrett’s house. Keyara went into cardiac arrest as Barrett was trying to care for her, Hale said.

Woman pleads no contest in husband’s fatal shooting


SAN BERNARDINO — An Ontario woman pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and assault Friday in connection with the 2007 shooting death of her husband.

Mia Gonzales entered her pleas in San Bernardino Superior Court as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that carries an 8-year prison sentence, her attorney said.

Gonzales, 36, is set to be sentenced Oct. 28.

A jury acquitted Gonzales of murder in April, but deadlocked in its deliberations over a lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter.

Gonzales testified during her trial that she shot her husband — 44-year-old state parole agent Abel Gonzales — in the midst of an argument on Oct. 27, 2007.

She said that as she and her husband argued in their bedroom, Abel Gonzales restrained her and she retrieved a handgun because she feared for her safety.

She testified that her husband grappled with her for control of the weapon and it inadvertently fired. The bullet entered Abel Gonzales’ brain and he died instantly, authorities said.

Mia Gonzales’ attorney, Mark Fredrick, said Gonzales chose to plead no contest rather than stand trial a second time because, “She’s tired, and wants to put it behind her.”

“What she said to me is it’s time for people to start healing,” Fredrick said.

Because Mia Gonzales has been in custody since the shooting, her 8-year prison sentence will be significantly shortened. Fredrick estimated that she will be released from prison in about 2-1/2 years.

Abel Gonzales’ sister, Sandy Silva, called the outcome of the case “an injustice for my brother,” and said she believes Mia Gonzales should have been convicted of murder.

“It’s really sad for us,” Silva said. “My mother didn’t even go because she was so sick over the whole thing. Her heart was hurting her so much, she just couldn’t go.”

Church choir director sentenced for lewd acts with underage girl


RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A choir director from a Montclair church was sentenced to four years and four months in state prison Thursday for committing sexual acts with a 15-year-old choirgirl.

Mark William Michaels, 54, pleaded guilty July 11 to three counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child of 14 or 15 years.

Michaels, of Upland, was arrested June 5 after a Montclair police officer saw him committing a sex act with the girl in a parked car in an alley in the 10200 block of Central Avenue.

In addition to imposing a prison sentence, Judge Michael Libutti ordered Michaels to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and pay $1,342 in restitution.

The money will reimburse the girl’s counseling expenses, Deputy District Attorney Jason Anderson said in West Valley Superior Court.

Michaels’ pleas came as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, who agreed Thursday to dismiss Michaels’ six remaining criminal counts, which include five counts of lewd or lascivious acts and one count of possessing child pornography.

The San Bernardino County Probation Department prepared a pre-sentencing report about Michaels’ case that was made public after Thursday’s hearing.

The report details an officer’s interviews with Michaels, the girl, and others.

The girl told the officer she’s known Michaels for about two and a half years through the choir at the church they both attend, Bethany Baptist Church at 9950 Monte Vista Ave.

The girl told the officer she began committing sex acts with Michaels in January or February. The encounters typically took place at the church, according to the report.

Michaels told the officer he suffers from sexual addiction, which “blurred the lines from right and wrong and kept the affair going,” the report says.

“The defendant is truly sorry for his actions and confirms he will enter a sexual rehabilitation clinic and halfway house program to stay out of jail and develop into a healthy individual, free from sex addiction upon his release,” the report says.

“He further apologized three times to the victim, family, his wife and other people affected by committing this crime.

“He is ‘coping the best I can’ and understands he will now be a lifetime sex registrant.”

Alleged victims testify in ‘Granny Bandit’ case


FONTANA — After hearing testimony from three alleged victims, a judge ruled Wednesday that prosecutors can try the accused ‘Granny Bandit’ on four counts of robbery.

The alleged victims each said they feared for their lives in May when confronted by a middle-aged woman holding a handgun and wearing a colorful headscarf.

“I was so worried my daughter was going to see her mother getting shot,” said a woman who cried during her testimony in Fontana Superior Court. “I felt like I was going to die.”

Dodi Wasbotten, 50, is accused of robbing four women at gunpoint in store parking lots in Fontana between May 8 and May 11.

She was arrested the afternoon of her final alleged robbery, and officers discovered several items in her car that were reported stolen in the robberies, including a purse and credit cards, according to police testimony.

Officers also found a replica pistol made of clear plastic but colored with black marker, according to police testimony.

Wasbotten allegedly used similar techniques in the four robberies, according to victims who testified Wednesday.

She would allegedly approach women in store parking lots as they were loading bags into their cars, threaten them with a gun, and demand that they hand over their purses, according to court testimony.

The four robberies allegedly committed by Wasbotten include:

– May 8 at 11:30 a.m. at Kohl’s, 14960 Summit Ave.

– May 9 at 8 p.m. at Target, 16964 Slover Ave.

– May 10 at 11 a.m. at Wal-Mart, 17251 Foothill Blvd.

– May 11 at 9:45 a.m. at Target, 15272 Summit Ave.

Wasbotten was arrested May 11 at about 1 p.m. following a traffic stop near Sierra Avenue and the 15 Freeway.

A Fontana police crime analyst saw Wasbotten’s car and recognized it from vehicle descriptions provided by robbery victims, police said.

Wasbotten, who was wearing an orange jail-issued jumpsuit in court, remained jailed Wednesday in lieu of $500,000 bail at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

She is next due Sept. 1 in Fontana Superior Court.

Preliminary hearing set for ‘Granny Bandit’

A preliminary hearing is scheduled to be held Wednesday in the case of the alleged armed robber known as the “Granny Bandit.”

Dodi Wasbotten, 50, was arrested May 11 after allegedly committing four armed robberies over four days in Fontana.

Wasbotten has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges and remained jailed Tuesday in lieu of $500,000 bail at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

At a preliminary hearing, prosecutors must present evidence — typically done through witness testimony — for a case to proceed to trial.