A former carnival worker was found guilty Friday of molesting two girls at The Big Fresno Fair while he fastened their seat belts on kiddie rides.
Sergio Gonzalez's first trial in Fresno County Superior Court ended in a mistrial in March when jurors deadlocked on whether he molested the girls, who were ages 5 and 7 at the time of the October 2009 incident.
This time, a new jury deliberated a little more than a day before returning guilty verdicts on two felony counts of lewd acts with a minor.
Gonzalez, 48, faces a prison sentence of 25 years to life on each count when he is sentenced Dec. 7 by Judge Rosendo Peña.
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"This was a very trying experience for the families of the victims," prosecutor Bob Whalen said after the verdict. "They knew their children were telling the truth."
The mother of one of the victims, who sat in court with her husband, wept during the hearing and as the verdict was read. Gonzalez – listening to the proceedings through a translator – showed no emotion.
Defense attorney Margarita Martinez-Baly harshly criticized the verdict and accused officials of coaching one of the young victims on her testimony.
"Justice was not served as far as I'm concerned," she said.
Martinez-Baly – who vowed an immediate appeal – said Gonzalez accidentally touched one of the two girls when he was fastening her into the ride. He did not even work on the ride where officials said the other incident occurred, she added.
"It was a case of mistaken identity," she said.
Martinez-Baly was critical of the entire case and during her closing argument said it involved poor detective work.
"I would be embarrassed to ask you to convict based on [this] investigation," she told jurors.
She said, for instance, that there were 300-plus photos of fair employees from 2009, but detectives never asked to see them. She said this was because detectives never considered any other suspect, even as some carnival workers left after Gonzalez's arrest – without even picking up their pay.
Whalen addressed Martinez-Baly's coaching allegation by saying she "reacts in an emotional way without thinking."
In his own closing argument, Whalen said the two girls "went to the fair to have a fun time and ended up having a very bad time, and it was because of Sergio Gonzalez. ... It was not a mistake when he touched the two girls. He did it intentionally."
The first trial ended with the panel voting 11-1 to find Gonzalez guilty of molesting the 7-year-old, but 9-3 for not guilty in connection with the 5-year-old.
This time, jury forewoman Lisa Martucci of Clovis said the panel wasn't unanimous on its first vote on Gonzalez, but were eventually in agreement on Gonzalez's guilt.
All along, Martucci said, she "just wanted it to be an accident. In the end, it just wasn't."