Maricruz Torrez molested a 14-year-old boy last year -- and she'll be back in the community within two days.
Torrez, who pleaded no contest to three felony counts of child molestation earlier this month, was given a sentence of five years probation Friday by Judge Ronald Hansen, which means she won't spend any time in prison.
Wearing a bright yellow jailhouse jumpsuit, the 34-year-old Merced resident bowed her head and sobbed openly in court throughout the 30-minute sentencing hearing.
Hansen suspended a prison sentence of four years, four months in prison and ordered Torrez to serve one year in jail. Because Torrez already has credit for time served in jail, however, she could be released by Sunday evening.
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When Torrez committed the crime, she was a child care worker at a Delhi facility operated by the nonprofit Creative Alternatives, which operates residential care homes for children. Merced County sheriff's investigators found she had sex with the boy on numerous occasions, both at her home and the facility, between February and April last year.
In reaching his decision, Hansen said Torrez undoubtedly abused her position of trust and authority. Still, he concluded that the risk of Torrez reoffending is low, after reviewing reports from psychologists, the probation department and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Regardless, Hansen reminded Torrez she'll be sentenced to prison if she resumes contact with the victim or violates the terms of her probation. She must also register as a convicted sex offender within five days of her release. Before Friday's hearing, Torrez was facing a maximum sentence of five years, four months in prison.
Deputy District Attorney Misty Compton suggested during her argument the case would be treated differently if the gender roles of the victim and perpetrator were reversed. "If (the suspect) were a 34-year-old male, this wouldn't be a question of going to prison. It would be a question of how long," Compton said.
After the hearing, Compton said she was surprised about the outcome, saying prison would have been justified, not only because of the harm done to the victim, but to serve as a deterrent. "Our position is, and remains, that sexual abuse of a minor is a serious offense, especially when the perpetrator was in a position of trust," Compton said.
Torrez's attorney, Deputy Public Defender "Mishya" Rimpel Singh, said she was pleased with Hansen's decision, especially because Torrez doesn't have a prior criminal record. She also said her client has shown remorse.
Singh added that Torrez enjoys strong support from her family, and the victim himself didn't want her to go to prison. "She's going to be successful on probation. There are definitely no winners in this case," Singh said.
The prosecution submitted letters from a child advocate and a therapist saying the crime has affected the victim, especially with his ability to form appropriate relationships with females. His academic performance has also been substantially affected since the crime happened, the letters said.
Torrez's family and friends also submitted letters to the judge, seeking leniency.
Torrez pleaded no contest to felony unlawful intercourse with a minor and two counts of performing lewd acts on a minor. She's a single divorced mother of two teenagers and a child who's around 9 years old, Singh said.
Under the terms of her probation, Torrez must also wear an ankle bracelet. A hearing will be held March 3 to determine how long she'll have to wear it, along with other terms of her probation.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.