Jeff Jardine

Turlock kidnap, torture case needs reminder of innocence until proven guilty

Frank Guerra booking mug.
Frank Guerra booking mug. Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office

This is one of those court cases that, if you believe in the justice system, you have to remind yourself a defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

On Monday afternoon, Frank Deodulo Guerra of Turlock pleaded not guilty in Stanislaus Superior Court to a range of charges that include kidnapping, domestic violence and torture. The wiry 22-year-old was arrested Friday after his former girlfriend went to the Turlock Police Department and told them a harrowing – OK, sickening – story of treatment no person could possibly deserve under any circumstances.

From Sept. 20, 2015, into January, Deputy District Attorney Beth DeJong said, Guerra forced the woman into a dog crate that measured 30 inches by 48 inches, with an inside height of 32 inches, leaving her inside hours on end each day while he went off to work. The victim told authorities she had to urinate into a dog bowl, and that he smeared dog feces on her numerous times. And more ...

“(Guerra) bit her on the back and she’ll have permanent scarring,” DeJong told Judge Ruben Villalobos. “He locked her in a dog crate. (Sometimes) he pushed her to the ground and kicked her until she’d go inside.”

The complaint states that he “did willfully, unlawfully, feloniously and forcibly steal, take and arrest and carry the said person to another part of Stanislaus County.”

The woman finally escaped Jan. 4, but didn’t report the crimes until last week. Why? DeJong said Guerra asserted power and control over the victim, both physically and mentally.

“He literally had it in my heart that I deserved everything,” the woman told police. “That I’m worthless, that I have nobody.”

He reportedly texted photos of him holding a gun, claimed that he would post photos of her nude on social media and left a recorded profanity-laced message that gave her the evidence she needed to go to the police.

“I know what I (expletive) did to you,” DeJong recited from the message as Villalobos heard arguments regarding bail. “Putting you in a cage, (expletive) biting you ... Not (expletive) trusting you ... ”

Villalobos denied Guerra bail. He also issued a protective order to keep Guerra from contacting the victim in any way while in jail, or from getting within 100 yards of her should he be allowed to post bail at some later point during the proceedings. When Villalobos asked Guerra whether he owned a firearm, Guerra swore under oath he does not.

Guerra was assigned Deputy Public Defender Saul Garcia by the judge. He returns to court Friday morning. The crimes carry a state prison term, not county jail time.

It is one of the stranger kidnap cases in the Valley in recent memory, at least among those in which no one died.

In 2008, a Tracy couple imprisoned and chained a 17-year-old boy who escaped by scaling the back wall of their yard and made his way to a fitness center nearby, the chain still attached to his leg when he begged employees to hide him and call the police. And DeJong recalls one from about a decade ago in which a Valley man was charged with putting a shock collar around his girlfriend’s neck.

Others involved kidnapping and sexual assaults, or robberies and in some cases homicides. None involved the kind of prolonged torture – treating someone like a caged animal – Guerra is charged with and, according to authorities, admitted to inflicting though he pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In the American criminal justice system, a defendant remains innocent until proven guilty. This is one of those cases that reminds us to remember that.