Socorro Pantoja, who pled no contest last year to two felony counts of child molestation, was sentenced to eight years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa on Wednesday.
The two charges each count as strikes against Pantoja under the state’s “three strikes” rule, which means he could face life in prison should he be convicted of another serious felony.
Pantoja allegedly made a seven-year-old female neighbor touch his penis and put it in her mouth several times, and also made her watch pornographic movies at his apartment. If she told anyone, he allegedly told her, she wouldn’t be allowed to play with his daughter, who was five years old at the time.
The victim’s father saw Pantoja abusing the child in the apartment complex pool one day, leading the Pantoja’s arrest. On December 15, the victim and her parents told Ochoa of the emotional damage caused to their family because of the abuse. The girl and her younger brother have been visiting a counselor to help deal with the lingering trauma. Sitting with her family in the court’s front row behind the man, the girl began crying when she saw him. “It made me feel mad, angry, and upset,” the girl said of seeing Pantoja in the courtroom.
The family gave their testimony in December because they planned to move back to Mexico, but Pantoja’s sentencing was delayed to this week because a probation report wasn’t done. The probation report suggested that Pantoja, who also pled to possession of cocaine, was a medium-low risk to commit another offense. When he gets out of prison he must register as a sex offender.
Ochoa allowed for the girl to sit with her back to Pantoja while she gave her statement so she didn’t have to look at him. “I was sad because I was going to sit over there and he was going to be looking at me,” she said. “He should stay in jail for a long time. If he gets out he’s going to do more things to more little girls.”
The victim’s father gave a passionate plea through an interpreter, asking Ochoa to drop the weight of the law upon Pantoja. “It was very hard to stand the desire to take justice into my own hands against this man,” the father said.
Said prosecutor Joyce Dudley after the sentence was handed down: “The upper term of eight years was appropriate given the devastation this crime had on the child and her family.”