A court case that initially involved six alleged sex-related offenses reached a considerably weaker conclusion this week after the 21-year-old defendant pleaded guilty to one amended count of assault.
Manuel Angel Fernandez Eguino was sentenced Monday afternoon to three years of standard probation and 30 days at the Santa Cruz County jail for one count of aggravated assault, a Class 6 felony. He was given credit for two days served prior to sentencing.
Considering the plea agreement before delivering the sentence this week, Superior Court Judge Thomas Fink questioned the prosecutor’s motives for reducing the original charges – three Class 2 felony counts of sexual assault, and three Class 5 felony counts of sexual abuse.
“I think that proving all of the charges would be difficult for (us) to do and it could create a situation that would be possibly embarrassing or difficult for the victim in this case,” Deputy County Attorney Gary Redente said.
Fernandez’s sentencing came more than two years after he allegedly sexually assaulted the female victim at a party while the two were under the influence of alcohol, defense lawyer Brenna Larkin said.
Redente explained that due to the victim’s level of intoxication the night of the event on Aug. 13, 2017, her memory was not a completely reliable source for the trial, and there were also inconsistencies with the DNA found on her body.
After reviewing her options, Redente said, the victim didn’t want to take the witness stand and relive the assault by going to trial. Instead, she wanted Fernandez to take responsibility for his actions, and to put the case behind her.
While the victim didn’t wish to testify at trial, she and her mother spoke to the judge at Monday’s hearing about how the assault had affected her.
“I feel like I have ruined another person’s life by just speaking up,” the victim said, adding that she felt ashamed and at fault.
She explained that she turned to school and extracurricular activities to distract her from thinking about the assault.
“If I did not tire myself enough during the day, I would dream at night – dream that I was in a dark room, had fuzzy thoughts and slow reactions,” she said. “That dream and feeling of helplessness assaulted me every night in my dreams.”
Larkin insisted that the case was not about a predator, but about a young man who was not able to measure the wrongfulness of his conduct due to his level of intoxication at the time.
She added that Fernandez had a clean record prior to the incident and was involved with his community and former school’s JROTC program, ultimately deciding to join the U.S. Marines after his high school graduation.
“He was living and breathing that sort of military life,” Larkin said, adding that Fernandez underwent a psychosexual evaluation, in which it was “pointed out that it’s common in those kinds of cultures to sometimes really let go when you’re having a party,” especially considering the amount of alcohol that he consumed and the big life change he was making by joining the Marines.
Given the chance to speak, Fernandez apologized to the victim and her family, as well as his own relatives.
“I do acknowledge that it was my fault and solely my fault. I should’ve thought about it and taken more time to reflect upon my actions,” he said.