Clarisa Santos’ cries for help were not always heeded while she was alive, but her testimony will be heard from beyond the grave this week at her former stepfather’s trial, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
Jose Manuel Gonzalez, 47, is on trial in Waco’s 19th State District Court on one count of continuous sexual abuse of a young child and one count of indecency with a child by contact. Prosecutors allege he sexually abused Santos, his former stepdaughter, for five years beginning when she was 8.
Clarisa, a 14-year-old Harmony Science Academy student, took her own life in May 2018, the day after she received a subpoena from the state to testify at Gonzalez’s trial, then set for last summer. After her death, the trial was postponed, and prosecutors Sydney Tuggle and Will Hix jumped through some unusual legal hoops to see that the girl’s statements to police and forensic interviewers would be admissible at Gonzalez’s trial.
Judge Ralph Strother granted a state motion two weeks ago that forfeited Gonzalez’s right to object to the evidence being used against him based on hearsay evidence and his right to confront witnesses against him. By approving the motion, the judge ruled that the testimony is admissible because Gonzalez “engaged in a course of action directed toward Clarisa Santos designed and intended to control, threaten and manipulate” her from reporting his actions.
Jurors instead will hear from Clarisa’s mother, Clara Santos, to whom the girl reported the abuse, initially to no avail. The jury will also hear testimony from police officers, forensic interviewers and others who talked to the girl after she reported the abuse.
The family was living in Keller when Clara Santos married Gonzalez. Clarisa was 6. When she was 8, she told her mother that Gonzalez was sexually abusing her, Hix said, but her mother did nothing.
Two years later, the family moved to Waco, and the abuse continued, Hix said. Clarisa’s mother caught Gonzalez sneaking out of Clarisa’s bedroom when she was 12 and she kicked him out at that time, Hix said.
“Clara Santos didn’t do a great job as a mother,” Hix said. “We don’t think she did a great job as a mother and we are not going to hide from that. Had she heard her daughter’s voice when she was 8, when she first reported this, maybe this story has a different ending.”
Gonzalez’s attorney, Chris Bullajian, deferred his opening statement Tuesday.
In a twist to this case that likely will play no role at Gonzalez’s trial, Clarisa Santos died in Robinson at the same location where FBI agents ultimately would shoot and kill Clara Santos’ boyfriend, Joshua Steven Mitchell, who also was known as Gio Michell.
Mitchell, 44, was killed July 25 after FBI agents serving an unspecified warrant at their home shot him after he reportedly threatened them. Federal records involving Mitchell’s case remain sealed.
Clara Santos and Mitchell said they wanted to create a foundation called One More Day to aid suicide prevention and gave the Tribune-Herald permission to use Clarisa’s name.
Clara Santos told the Tribune-Herald last year that she bought the gun Clarisa used to kill herself for protection after Clarisa thought she saw Gonzalez near their home on Stegall Drive in Robinson.