By MICHAEL RAMOS, San Bernardino County District Attorney
Children are our most defenseless and vulnerable crime victims. Inflicting serious injury or torture on a helpless child is one of the most atrocious and heinous crimes we prosecute. The citizens of this county should know that this office is dedicated to protecting our innocent children by prosecuting their abusers to the fullest extent of the law, and today, we are taking another step to ensure justice.
Today, while I am saddened to think about the horrific abuses that human beings are capable of committing against innocent children, I am proud to announce that our office has officially formed a Major Crimes Against Children Unit (MCAC). It is because of the extreme cruelty of these crimes that such action is necessary.
That’s not to say that we haven’t been doing a good job in this area up until this point. I am fortunate to have a dedicated group of attorneys—who with our local law enforcement and medical partners—spend countless hours every day dedicated to pursuing justice for our most vulnerable victims. Creation of the Major Crimes Against Children Unit will ensure that these cases continue to receive the priority they deserve.
This is a proactive approach toward improving not only the investigations that go into these types of crimes, but a means in which to strengthen the procedures and policies already in place. As a trial lawyer I learned that these cases are also particularly difficult to prosecute because frequently there are no witnesses and the child is unable to testify. Therefore, it becomes even more critical that we have specially trained prosecutors working together as a team with the investigating law enforcement officers and the medical professionals who examine and treat the child.
Sadly, there are far too many cases that occur each year in San Bernardino County. In 2011, there were 53 cases countywide that our office prosecuted that would fall into the “major crimes” against children category. And this year, to date, 32 additional cases have been filed. These types of cases include Murder, Assault on a Child Causing Death, Torture and Mayhem and any felony where special allegations such as Great Bodily Injury, Sex Crimes with AIDS, and Willful Harm or Injury Resulting Death are charged. But those are numbers, and sometimes the numbers don’t necessarily convey the brutality of what constitutes a “major crime.”
Just recently, a Lucerne Valley man was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison for beating his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son to death in front of other children. The defendant admitted to punching and biting the child after finding out that his wet diaper had leaked on the bed.
Another disturbing case involves three people who were convicted in a child torture case out of Apple Valley. In August 2009, after receiving an anonymous tip, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies rescued a 5-year-old boy from a dark closet in the home where he was living. Much of his body was covered in bruises and burns from a glue gun and hot spoons, and he had been sodomized and deprived of food and water. The young boy admitted to detectives that one of the defendants would hang him upside down in the garage and hit him with a belt.
Martin Roland Morales, the main perpetrator in this case, is scheduled to be sentenced in March and faces more than 78 years in state prison. One detective assigned to this case called it the worst case of abuse against a child that he had ever seen in his career in law enforcement. Sadly, there are more. And while it’s difficult to point out the sadistic details of such atrocities being committed against our most vulnerable victims, doing so is what justifies our need as prosecutors to do everything within our means to protect future victims.
By creating this unit, my hope is that the message is very clear to anybody who might consider committing a vicious crime against any child: You will be held accountable for your actions to the fullest extent of the law.