James Francisco Fuentes

James Francisco Fuentes

A Santa Maria man arrested in 2018 on suspicion of sexual assault and related crimes is scheduled to be sentenced in early January to 25 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

On Friday morning, 44-year-old James Francisco Fuentes entered his guilty plea to one count of forced oral copulation involving two victims, identified as Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe No. 2.

He was arrested in May 2018 in connection with a sexual assault that occurred near 1400 E. Main St., with Santa Maria police believing he may have committed similar crimes.

Fuentes was located at Armstrong Park in Santa Maria about five hours after the attack.

He initially faced six charges, but a criminal complaint amended later included multiple charges and listed at least two victims, including one from an alleged incident in February 2018.

The plea agreement will avoid a trial. 

After a preliminary hearing in August 2019, a judge said enough evidence existed for Fuentes to face trial on 10 charges, which included kidnapping for robbery or rape, two counts of forcible oral copulation, attempted forcible rape, two counts of dissuading a witness, along with assorted robbery and burglary counts.

Forced oral copulation is considered a violent strike offense, and Fuentes also admitted to a special allegation of having two prior strike convictions from 2007, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Scott Donahue said.

That 2007 case included similar allegations that Fuentes faced from 2018.

At the time of his arrest in 2018, Fuentes was on parole, police said.

As a result of the current and prior convictions, Fuentes, who was represented by Lori Pedego, will be sentenced to 25 years to life under California’s Three Strike Sentencing Law, Donahue said.

Fuentes has remained in custody of the Santa Barbara County Jail since his arrest with bail set at $3 million. 

He is scheduled to return to court Jan. 4 for sentencing before Judge James Voysey.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.