A man accused of sexually assaulting a gradeschool-age girl over several years in Coachella re-entered a not guilty plea Thursday and was ordered to return to court on Nov. 2 for a trial-readiness conference.
Alfonso Gonzalez Meraz, 32, was arrested on Oct. 4 last year stemming from an investigation into sex crimes that allegedly occurred between 2009 and 2015, starting when the alleged victim was between 7 and 8 years old.
The defendant could be sentenced to 151 years to life in state prison if convicted of four counts each of engaging in sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child under 10 years old and lewd acts with a child by force, two counts of engaging in oral copulation or sexual penetration with a child under 10 years old and one count of kidnapping to commit rape, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
In a preliminary hearing last month at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dale R. Wells ruled prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
Riverside County sheriff’s Investigator Claudia Herrera testified that the alleged victim reported being molested by the defendant within months of him moving into her mother’s Coachella home in the summer of 2009.
The alleged attacks by the Mexican national began as groping before morphing into instances of rape, Herrera alleged. At one point, the defendant raped the young girl while her mother, who was a “heavy sleeper,” slept beside them, the investigator alleged.
Herrera testified that the victim had reported an early instance of alleged groping to her mother, who took no action, which dissuaded the child from reporting other acts of sexual assault.
“She was upset mom didn’t question any further,” the investigator said.
The alleged crimes came to light in early 2019 when the victim was in high school, about four years after the defendant moved out of the house in 2015, which is when the alleged abuse stopped, according to the prosecution.
Meraz, who remains in custody at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning in lieu of $6 million bail, has no documented felony convictions in Riverside County.