An All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church employee pleaded guilty Friday under a plea agreement that allows him to avoid another trial in a felony molestation case.
The deal was reached Friday when Carlos Ruano, 67, appeared in a Santa Barbara courtroom for what was slated to be his second arraignment following a mistrial Sept. 26.
Ruano, who has been the Montecito church’s sexton since 2005, pleaded guilty to one felony count of false imprisonment, according to Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley.
Ruano will be sentenced to one year in jail and three years of formal felony probation, although he will be given credit for time already served, Dudley said.
Prosecutors offered the plea deal after a jury failed to come back with a unanimous verdict last month, deadlocking after four days 9-3 in favor of conviction Ruano of lewd conduct against a minor — his then 7-year-old step-granddaughter — during an incident that allegedly took place last July in his Santa Barbara home.
A hung jury meant Ruano, who as sexton oversaw buildings and the logistics of all church events, could have faced another trial.
Ruano, who has been in custody for more than a year, was also ordered Friday to have no contact with the victim and her family, and must comply with terms and conditions as ordered by probation officials.
Ruano was still in jail Friday on an immigration hold pending formal sentencing Nov. 15, according to Deputy District Attorney Brandon Ladinig, who prosecuted the case.
He was subsequently released into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Monday, according to the county jail.
Dudley said the decision to forego a re-trial of the case was based on the state of evidence and the wishes of the young victim and her family.
“I would like to commend the Santa Barbara Police Department for their hard work on this case, and I also note the bravery and perseverance of the child victim and her family throughout the process,” Ladinig said.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors alleged that Ruano inappropriately touched the young victim when she visited his home on July 29, 2012.
Court documents in the case stated that the victim had been jumping on a bed with her brother when he jumped onto her stomach, injuring her. Ruano allegedly touched her beneath her underwear while he was applying lotion for the stomach pain.
The defense argued that Ruano had no history of such behavior, and pointed to a pending custody battle as motivation to coach the victim.
Montecito parishioners have supported the church employee financially and emotionally since the start of the trial process, with more than 40 present for closing arguments last month.