Husband acquitted in teen sex case
Jury takes 30 minutes to reach a verdict in controversial trial.
By Pablo Lopez / The Fresno Bee
(Updated Tuesday, January 4, 2005, 5:30 AM)
"He's free to raise a happy family," juror Maria Padilla said after the verdict was announced in Fresno County Superior Court.
Macias, a 21-year-old farmworker, smiled and thanked jurors. His 16-year-old wife, Gloria Rodriguez, had tears in her eyes. They are expecting a baby in February.
"We are both very happy," Rodriguez said before leaving the courthouse for their home in Orange Cove.
After the verdict, jurors clapped for lawyer Margarita Martinez, commending her for her passionate defense of Macias.
Had Macias been convicted of the felony, he would have faced up to three years in prison and deportation to Mexico. Now, he is free to follow the harvests, take computer classes and raise his family in the United States, Martinez said.
The trial in Judge Franklin P. Jones' courtroom raised social and legal issues about love, relationships and marriages, and whether jurors have a right to reject a law if they don't agree with it.
In the end, jurors said they followed the law in rejecting the testimony of sheriff's detective Roberto Buenrostro, who said he tricked Macias into confessing and forgot he had tape-recorded the confession.
"These people have a lot of guts," Martinez said of the jurors. "This just shows that the law is not always black and white. Sometimes it's gray."
Macias put his fate in the hands of nine jurors — six women and three men — instead of 12. He agreed to the smaller panel after Jones dismissed four jurors and one alternate because of school and work conflicts.
Macias married Rodriguez on Dec. 19, a week before the trial's start, but Rodriguez was not allowed to invoke marital privilege and not testify against her husband because the law considered her a victim.
During the trial, prosecutor Rudy Carrillo argued that the trial wasn't about two people in love; it was about Macias taking advantage of Rodriguez, who could not legally give consent to having sex.
Martinez, however, argued that "justice is not always a conviction." She said she would have had Macias plead guilty to a misdemeanor, but that was never offered.
Carrillo said the age difference between the defendant and victim made the case a felony: Macias was 20 and Rodriguez was 14 when they first had sex in August 2003.
After the verdict, Carrillo said he would file a felony charge again under the same circumstances.
According to testimony during the trial, Rodriguez's parents called sheriff's officials in August 2003 to report Macias' illicit sexual affair with their daughter.
Over the months, however, the parents learned to like Macias because their daughter said she really loved him. She also threatened to run away with him.
Buenrostro testified that Macias confessed to breaking the law. But he also told the detective that he loved Rodriguez.
Carrillo conceded sympathy played a role because Macias was free on his own recognizance while the case was being tried. Jurors often saw the couple hold hands, hug and kiss.
In closing arguments, Carrillo told jurors that he had proved Macias had sex with a minor who was not his wife at the time. But Buenrostro's investigation forced Carrillo to tackle sticky issues in his final arguments.
Buenrostro first testified that he didn't tape-record Macias' confession. Once Martinez pressed him on the issue, Buenrostro remembered that he did tape Macias' confession. He later produced the tape for jurors to hear.
In addition, Buenrostro testified that he tricked Macias and Rodriguez into confessing about their love for each other and to having sex, and that he didn't give Macias a Miranda warning against self-incrimination.
Jones ruled that the confessions were admissible because the law allows police to deceive, lie or use a ruse to get people to talk. The judge also ruled that a Miranda warning was not necessary because Macias was not in sheriff's custody when he confessed.
While instructing the jury, Jones said jurors could disregard a witness's entire testimony if the panel finds the witness had willfully withheld evidence or misled the jury.
Carrillo countered, saying that even if jurors were to reject Buenrostro's testimony, they could still find Macias guilty because his wife testified that she had sex with Macias when she was 14 and he was 20.
Carrillo also noted that Rodriguez is pregnant with Macias' child.
"This case is very straightforward," Carrillo told jurors. "Follow the law and find him guilty."
Jurors Brooks Shelton, Cia Mislang, Whitney Masten and Padilla said after the verdict that they did follow the law — the panel rejected Buenrostro's investigation.
"The people did not meet the burden of proof," Shelton said. "We all
wondered about the tape," Mislang said. "It's his [Buenrostro's] job not
to forget it."
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