A mother and daughter delivered emotional victim-impact statements Thursday, sharing about the girl’s fear and lack of trust, as sobbing and sniffling filled a Santa Maria courtroom where their relative was sentenced for molesting two girls.
Gerald Francis Gault, 68, of Santa Maria pleaded guilty earlier to two charges before Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge John McGregor and returned to court Thursday for his sentencing hearing.
Gault will serve five years of probation on top of the approximately 16 months he already spent in Santa Barbara County Jail since his arrest in early 2016. He was released from jail after Thursday’s hearing.
Before handing down the sentence Thursday, the judge heard from one young victim, who delivered a statement in a strong confident voice while standing at the podium in the packed courtroom.
Along with family members, members of Bikers Against Child Abuse attended the hearing.
“Once I was old enough to realize what he was doing to me was wrong, it made me feel helpless, scared and confused,” the girl said, adding she thought she could trust Gault.
He originally faced seven felony charges. Under the deal, he pleaded guilty to committing a lewd acts upon a 9-year-old girl and a girl who was between 14 and 15 years old at the time. They were identified as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2, respectively.
Along with jail time and probation, Gault must register as a sex offender for life, under the terms of the plea. He also was ordered to stay away from the victims.
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian said she agreed to the plea after talking to the victims’ families and considering the trauma and victimization the girls would face during a jury trial
The guilty plea ensured Gault was held accountable for molesting the children, Karapetian said.
“It took tremendous courage for these two victims to come forward and report their abuser,” Karapetian said. “Now they can move forward on their path of healing, knowing that (Gault) was held accountable for what he did to them.”
During their victim-impact statements, the girl and her mother expressed disappointment at the plea deal.
“I’m sorry he isn’t getting the punishment I had hoped, for but I accept your decision. I’m very glad that will all be said and done,” the girl said.
The girl said she still struggles with trusting people while living with confusion and fear, adding that she refuses to let the molestation define her.
“I’ve been going to therapy, and I’m learning to deal with what has happened. I’m going to get through this and grow from everything that has happened, so I’m plan to get on with my life. When I look back, I hope this will just be a bump in my life and I will not live in fear,” she added.
The girl’s mother also recalled learning from her then 9-year-old daughter that Gault had been molesting her.
“I was shocked,” the mother said. “That was January of 2016, and my family has a been in a sustained crisis ever since. It was heart-wrenching to watch my little girl shake and cry. She could barely breathe and she was so upset.”
The girl feared Gault would show up at her soccer games or school to try to take her, the mom said.
“He has taken away her ability to trust other people. He has taken away her sense of safety. He has taken away her sense of being a normal girl,” the mom said.
Gault accepted a plea deal before the start of jury selection for his trial last month.
Defense attorney Addison Steele said his client was faced with a difficult choice of facing life sentence if found guilty at trial versus gaining his freedom.
“Despite how badly he wanted to go to trial for the sake of his wife and his son, he elected not to take that risk and to go home,” Steele said.
Steele said the judge had dismissed the case against Gault before the District Attorney’s Office refiled the charges.
This is not Gault’s first involvement with the justice system.
As a teen defendant Gault was at the heart of an Arizona case that led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court opinion still shaping the juvenile court system in use today.
That case stems from Gault’s 1964 arrest in Arizona as a 15-year-old who made an obscene phone call to his neighbor and the court’s handling of the underage offender.
The U.S. Supreme Court opinion said Gault’s due process rights were violated. leading Justice Abe Fortas to write, ”Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.”