A Robinson man who prosecutors say contributed to the suicide of his stepdaughter by sexually abusing her for years was sentenced to life without parole Thursday.
Barring reversal of his conviction on appeal, 47-year-old Jose Manuel Gonzalez will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Jurors in Waco’s 19th State District Court deliberated about 30 minutes Thursday before convicting Gonzalez, an apartment complex maintenance worker, of continuous sexual abuse of a young child and indecency with a child by contact.
The jury took just 15 minutes before recommending maximum terms on both counts, including 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine on the indecency count. While Gonzalez is not eligible for parole on the first count, Judge Ralph Strother, saying he wanted to “make a statement,” stacked the two counts, ordering Gonzalez to serve the terms consecutively although the judge said he knows his order has no legal impact.
Gonzalez was convicted of sexually abusing his stepdaughter, Clarisa Santos, for almost five years, beginning when she was 8. The 14-year-old took her own life in Robinson last year, the day after she was served with a subpoena to testify against Gonzalez at his initial trial setting.
Gonzalez’s attorney, Chris Bullajian, declined comment after the three-day trial.
Prosecutors Sydney Tuggle and Will Hix played a two-hour video of the girl’s interview at the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children in which she reported Gonzalez’s continued sexual abuse.
Forensic evidence also showed that Gonzalez’s DNA as well as the girl’s DNA were detected on a penis ring that the girl said Gonzalez used the last time he sexually assaulted her.
Tuggle told jurors in punishment-phase summations that “Clarisa’s DNA is on his sex toys and her blood is on his hands.”
“This case has been justice delayed for far too long,” Tuggle said. “Today this jury gave everyone affected by the heinous crimes of this man and overwhelming sense of peace. We are so thankful for this incredible jury who heard Clarisa and finally gave her a voice. We hope Clarisa is finally at peace.”
Tuggle thanked those who “worked so hard to take care of Clarisa along the way,” including the team at the Advocacy Center and the Robinson Police Department.
Robinson police officer Travis Nice told the jury Thursday that after Clarisa reported the abuse and Gonzalez was freed on bond, Clarisa and her mother, Clara Santos, expressed concern for their safety. So each night at roll call, an officer was assigned to drive by Clarisa’s home on Stegall Drive and shine a spotlight into her bedroom window “so she would know that the good guys were outside” watching out for her, Nice said.
Nice said he was the second officer to arrive after Clarisa took her life in a shed behind their home. He said he and another officer performed emergency procedures on the teen before paramedics arrived, adding that the girl’s death took an emotional toll on those involved.
Lee Carter, a Waco psychologist, testified that young people who suffer sexual and physical abuse are six times more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts or to kill themselves. He said the jury should consider the effects of the longtime abuse suffered by Clarisa at Gonzalez’s hands and the role that possibly played in her death.
In defense testimony Thursday, Gonzalez testified that he met Clara Santos when they worked in the same building in Bedford, north of Arlington. She was married and they began an affair, he said. She later divorced and they married and moved to Robinson.
He said Clarisa was 5 when they married and she took an immediate dislike to him because he said she thought he broke up her parents’ marriage and forced her to move away from her school and her friends.
“She was very angry,” he said. “We never got along. I would call our relationship toxic.”
He said after Clara had Gonzalez’s son, Joseph, Clarisa became jealous of the time her mother spent with her brother and grew to hate Gonzalez even more. Gonzalez admitted to cheating on Clara Santos and said his wife confronted him about it, suggesting that she had ways to “get rid of him.”
He said after Clarisa went to the police alleging he sexually assaulted her, he took pills and wanted to die. Eight days later, he took more pills and tried to kill himself by wrecking his car, he said.
“I felt helpless,” he said. “How do you defend yourself against a case like that? It’s never a good situation. That’s all I can say. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world.”
While Gonzalez denied assaulting Clarisa, he could not explain to the jury under cross-examination from Tuggle how Clarisa’s DNA ended up on his penis ring.
“It’s pretty easy to say bad things about a kid when she’s not here to defend herself, isn’t it?” Tuggle asked Gonzalez.
In other defense testimony, Gonzalez’s brother, 27-year-old daughter and ex-wife all testified that he is a good person, a good father and a good grandfather.