Molestation case in hands of jury

Roberto Cortez
Roberto Cortez

A calculating sexual predator who molested underage girls?

Or the victim of false accusations motivated by vindictive ex-girlfriends?

Those are questions facing jurors in the trial of Roberto Cortez, a 38-year-old Livingston man accused of molesting three young girls on multiple occasions between 1998 and 2007.

Jurors are now in deliberations, after closing arguments by attorneys on both sides Tuesday.

Cortez is charged with eight counts of child molestation and one count of possessing or duplicating child pornography. He was arrested by Livingston police earlier this year on suspicion of molesting the three girls, who ranged in age from 6 to 13 when the alleged crimes occurred.

Prosecutor David Sandhaus told jurors there's no shortage of evidence pointing to Cortez's guilt, including testimony by the three victims and images of child pornography found on the defendant's computer. He called Cortez a sexual predator who "moves from victim to victim" targeting the daughters of the women he dated.

Sandhaus also cited an apology letter that Cortez wrote to the mothers of one of the victims after his arrest.

"That's an admission of guilt," Sandhaus said. "You don't apologize if you're falsely accused of a crime."

He said the three girls gave consistent testimony throughout the trial, which ranged from watching pornographic movies with Cortez to being touched inappropriately and forced into acts of oral copulation.

Several images of child pornography found on a computer in Cortez's bedroom also indicate that he had a proclivity toward molesting children, Sandhaus said.

"Hold him responsible for every single horrible thing that he's done," Sandhaus told jurors, walking over to Cortez and pointing at him.

In defense of Cortez, attorney Richard Berger told jurors that the mother of one of the victims had threatened to accuse him of molesting her daughter.

"She told him, 'If she can't have him, nobody can,'" Berger said.

Berger said the woman was also working "behind the scenes" and had contacted at least one of the mothers of the other victims.

"We don't know what possibly turned them against him, that these accusations would come about," Berger said.

The computer containing the images of child pornography, Berger said, didn't even belong to his client and was used by many people. And while Cortez did write an apology letter to the mother of one of his victims, Berger said he did it because he considered her a "lifeline" and wanted their relationship to continue.

Sandhaus dismissed Berger's contentions that the victims' mothers were plotting against Cortez and that the victims had been coaxed into making up the molestation accusations. "There's no evidence whatsoever that these kids have been manipulated or trained," Sandhaus said.

Merced County Sheriff's Department deputies had previously investigated Cortez for allegations of child molestation in 2005, but no charges were filed. All three of the victims took the stand during the two-week trial.

Cortez faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or