28 Jun 2008

Convicted molester sentenced to 45 years to life

The Press-Enterprise - California    June 27, 2008

by Tammy J. McCoy

A Murrieta man used his daughter's slumber parties to satisfy his perverted desires, a judge said Friday, then ignored calls for mercy and sentenced the 50-year-old father to a prison term of 45 years to life.

"The court has little doubt that if released he will move immediately to molest little children," Judge F. Paul Dickerson III said. "The court feels there are other victims out there who have not come forward."

Dickerson said he was compelled to impose the harshest penalty, given the pain defendant Gilbert Simental inflicted on the girls and the peril he would pose to children if released.

In April, a jury at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley convicted Simental of molesting two sisters, then ages 9 and 10, on separate occasions in 2005 and 2006.

Frank Bellino/The Press-Enterprise
Gilbert Simental, of Murrieta, reacts Friday during his sentencing at Southwest Justice Center in French Valley.

The Press-Enterprise does not routinely publish the names of minors who are victims of sexual abuse.

Prior to sentencing, defense attorney Miles Clark and eight of Simental's friends and relatives asked the judge to be lenient with Simental, repeatedly describing him as a good man who made a bad mistake.

"Continuing to love in the face of something terrible . . . that's what is important, that we continue to love one another," Simental's 22-year-old son, Alex Simental, said. "I ask for your mercy."

Later, the father of the two victims expressed anguish and rage that his daughters were sexually violated by a family friend.

He applauded his daughters for having the strength to endure so much, including testifying before a jury of strangers about intimate facts that children should not have to discuss.

"My daughters . . . in time will recover from their ordeal," he said.

During his trial, Simental admitted that he twice molested the younger girl but he denied abusing her older sister.

Leaders of Simental's congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses contradicted his statements and testified Simental, during the course of their religious inquiry, admitted touching both girls.

Prior to the trial, the case broke new legal ground in California about when statements made to clergy members are deemed confidential, prosecutor Burke Strunsky said.

"This case makes a bold statement to any religious organization that we are not going to allow you to abuse confidentiality privileges in order to suppress the confessions of child molesters," said Strunsky. "The stakes are way too high."

Elders John Vaughn and Andrew Sinay balked at testifying against Simental, when subpoenaed by Strunsky. They cited the confidentiality afforded by the penitent-clergy privilege.

Dickerson ordered them to testify after finding the Jehovah's Witnesses' judicial committee system is not designed to keep information confidential.

As a result, the penitent-clergy privilege does not apply since state law protects statements made to clergy members who are required by their faith's practices to keep them secret.

While Simental did not make a statement on his own behalf Friday, he said he did not get a fair trial when interviewed for a pre-sentencing report filed by Deputy Probation Officer Julia Meeks.

"The jury was made up of mostly women, so there were lots of emotions," Simental told Meeks. "I'm sure as much as he (the judge) tried to be a good judge, I think he was biased."

Simental will be in court July 28 in connection with another molestation case against him involving another girl.

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