A former child care worker convicted this month of having sex with a 14-year-old boy under her supervision is due to be sentenced by a judge Friday.
Maricruz Torrez, 34, pleaded no contest earlier this month to three felony counts of child molestation. She faces a maximum of five years, four months in prison.
Torrez worked at a Delhi facility operated by the nonprofit Creative Alternatives, which operates residential care homes for children. Prosecutors said she had sex with the boy on several occasions between February and April last year.
The Merced County Sheriff's Department initiated an investigation after an employee at the nonprofit learned of the abuse and notified Merced County Child Protective Services, according to a sheriff's report.
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Torrez was arrested April 17 after being interviewed by detectives.
Deputy District Attorney Misty Compton, prosecutor in the case, said she hopes the judge sentences Torrez to "as much (prison) time as possible."
The victim saw Torrez as a mother figure, Compton said, and was under the impression he was in a romantic relationship with her, believing they were in love.
The crime has affected the victim's ability to form positive relationships with others, Compton said, adding that Torrez took advantage of his vulnerability and abused a position of trust. "I think she did a lot of damage to this victim, even though he may not fully realize it yet," Compton said.
Despite the gravity of the charges facing Torrez, her attorney said probation rather than prison should be granted. Deputy Public Defender "Mishya" Rimpel Singh said her client has no previous criminal background. A defense psychologist determined that Torrez needs counseling, but is a low-risk offender, Singh said.
Singh believes it's unlikely her client would molest again. "She's not a danger to society," Singh said. "She's sorry for what she did."
The victim told detectives Torrez befriended him at first, but later moved on to flirting. She proposed a sexual relationship with the victim, and he accepted. The victim told investigators the sex happened at the group home and Torrez's 3075 Park Ave. apartment in Merced.
As for how he ended up at Torrez's apartment, the victim told detectives he'd leave the group home, but would later be picked up by Torrez and driven to her place. The victim eventually told a Creative Alternatives employee about the sex.
Under questioning by detectives, Torrez said she first met the victim in December 2008 after his arrival at the home. She denied the allegations, but later admitted to having sex with the boy after detectives said they knew she was lying.
The boy was also able to tell detectives about distinguishing marks on Torrez's body, including tattoos of a dolphin and a bunny on her hips, according to a sheriff's report.
When Torrez entered her pleas earlier this month, she gave a tearful apology to the victim and his family, saying she'd made a mistake, Singh said.
Torrez, who has two teenage children of her own, pleaded no contest to felony unlawful intercourse with a minor and two counts of performing a lewd act on a minor. Torrez was charged with nine felony counts. Prosecutors agreed to drop six felony counts when she pleaded.
Regardless of the sentence Torrez receives from a judge, she will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. She remains in custody at the Merced County Main Jail.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org