A Santa Barbara man was sentenced to 145 years to life in prison on Tuesday after a jury found him guilty on multiple counts of sex crimes against two young girls.
Jose Vazquez Prestegui, 40, reportedly admitted to police after he was arrested last August that he molested a 5-year-old girl in his home as “payback” for his own history of being molested as a child.
During his trial, the jury heard testimony from the two female victims — who are now 6 and 16 — about the crimes Prestegui committed against them, which included child molestation, sodomy and rape.
Prestegui was found guilty of the crimes by a jury in July on all nine counts filed against him.
The incident involving the younger victim, who was 5 at the time, was reported to have occurred at Prestegui’s home, which he shared with several families. The girl was visiting a friend who lived in the home and had wandered into Prestegui’s living area during a game of hide-and-seek.
The girl began watching television with Prestegui, who allegedly fondled her through her clothing. The victim told her 17-year-old cousin, who alerted adults and ultimately police.
Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Ladinig said earlier this year that not only did the jury find Prestegui guilty of child molestation of that child, Jane Doe 1, who is now 6, but convicted him of eight other counts with a second victim who was discovered after Prestegui’s arrest, who also testified during trial and spoke at Tuesday's sentencing.
Prestgui was her stepfather from ages 4 to 7, and the jury found him guilty of three counts of sodomy, two counts of rape, one count of continuous sexual abuse of minor and child molestation.
That victim, identified to the court only as Justine, testified at the sentencing.
"Thank you for letting me see this and finally be free," she told Superior Court Judge Brian Hill on Tuesday. "[Prestegui] has ruined my life."
Prestegui interrupted the victim, bursting out by saying, "That's not true," and was immediately silenced by Hill and several bailiffs.
The victim continued, stating that her whole childhood was different because of what he had done to her, and asked for the maximum sentence.
Prestegui was also given the chance to make his own statement and defended himself.
"I never did anything to her," he said.
Ladinig commended Justine for her bravery, saying that Prestegui raped and sodomized Justine over 40 times over a four-year period.
He committed unthinkable acts, Ladinig said, and "he still to this day does not accept any responsibility to what he's done."
Prestegui's mother, Sylvia Vazquez, also spoke briefly, saying she could not believe her son was being accused of rape. Vazquez said she used to work night shifts and Prestegui would watch his two sisters, ages 10 and 11 at the time, with no trouble.
"Her mind seems to be very perverse," Vasquez said of the victim.
Prestegui's sister, Miriam Martinez, was also there to speak on Tuesday and said her brother would babysit her kids and "never had any problems."
Hill ultimately sentenced Prestegui to the maximum sentence even though the man will die in prison long before his time runs out.
One of the reasons the full amount of time was appropriate is to send a message that "the community simply will not tolerate this kind of conduct," he told the court. The maximum sentence is "a gesture intended to communicate how abhorrent these crimes are."
Hill reflected on the multiple weeks of trial and said there was no question in the court's mind that they were victims.
"Their physical injuries were serious, and the psychological injuries will last a lifetime," he said.
Prestegui must pay a $10,000 fine, and the amount he will pay in restitution has yet to be determined, Hill said.