A Hotchkiss man was found guilty last week on felony charges of sex assault on a child and enticement of a child. Both are Class 4 felonies.
A jury of 12 deliberated just over an hour before delivering the guilty verdict Friday afternoon. During the previous three days, they heard how Arturo Mendoza befriended his neighbors and their two young daughters. Prosecutors alleged he was "grooming" the girls, enticing them with candy, popsicles and a trampoline in the back yard. He had no children of his own, but had gained the trust of the girls' family, who allowed them to come and go from his home.
The charges were filed after one of the girls told her mother about inappropriate touching that took place twice. She was just 7 years of age.
During the trial, evidence was presented through the testimony of the child victim, her family, expert witnesses and law enforcement officers.
Defense attorney Daniel Shaffer contended the victim's story was the result of "leading, suggestive" questioning. In his closing argument, he said that without corroborating evidence to support the victim's allegations, prosecution had not met the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. He cautioned jurors against relying on opinions or hunches.
In rebuttal, deputy district attorney Seth Ryan referred to Shaffer's comments about "hunches."
"If you think something happened, we've met our burden and you should find the defendant guilty," Ryan told the jurors.
Ryan was a member of the sex offense prosecution team which also included deputy district attorney Lane Thomasson, victims services specialist Denetta Dunlap and Corporal Chad Lloyd of the Hotchkiss Marshal's Office.
Cases involving sex offense charges require extraordinary work, especially when the sex offense involves a victim who is a minor child, said district attorney Dan Hotsenpiller.
"The district attorney recognizes and appreciates all of the efforts of the sex offense team and law enforcement," the DA's office stated in a press release issued this week. "These cases present circumstances difficult for jurors to hear, and the district attorney expressly thanks all the jurors who appeared for service and those that were selected to hear this case."
Mendoza was remanded into the custody of the Delta County Sheriff's Office and will be held in the Delta County Jail until sentencing. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, May 22, in the Delta District Court. The court can impose probation or may commit the defendant to the Department of Corrections for a period of two years to 12 years, and up to the lifetime of the offender. The defendant will be required to participate in sex offender treatment and to register as a sex offender.
On May 18, officers of the Delta Police Department, with the assistance from the Delta County Sheriff's Office and Montrose County Sheriff's Office, conducted a search warrant at 960 Crawford Avenue, Delta. The warrant was related to drugs, drug use and possession, drug manufacturing and distribution, firearms, cell phones and any other items which may be illegal, stolen or otherwise implicating in criminal activity.