A 42-year-old man faces life in prison without the possibility of parole in April when he is scheduled to be sentenced for kidnapping and raping an 11-year-old girl in Santa Ana 24 years ago.
Jose Andres Plascencia was convicted Thursday of kidnapping to commit a sex crime and five counts of rape, all felonies. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 14.
Co-defendant Ismael Salgado, 43, is awaiting trial.
Jurors deliberated for about a day before convicting Plascencia.
Deputy District Attorney Kristin Bracic said in her opening statement the case “comes down to one thing — opportunity.”
The two men were in a car on Feb. 3, 1999, when they spotted the victim and her 13-year-old friend leaving Jerome Center in Santa Ana and tried to coax them in for a ride, Bracic said. The girls went to the community center to walk around about 5:30 p.m. and were leaving about 7 p.m., Bracic said.
“The guys started heckling them,” Bracic said. “The girls ignored them at first.”
The two men got out of the car and continued trying to coax them in the vehicle, Bracic said.
“They say, `Let’s at least give you a ride,’ ” Bracic said.
The 11-year-old was “reluctant” because of her mother’s rule against accepting rides from strangers, Bracic said. But her friend agreed and encouraged the other girl to get in, Bracic said.
Salgado, who was 19 at the time, was driving and Plascencia got in the backseat with the 11-year-old in the front passenger seat, Bracic said.
The men quickly grew “flirty, putting their arm around them,” Bracic said.
The 13-year-old asked to get out, and did, and tried to get her friend to get out of the car as well, Bracic said.
But the victim testified that she “was going to get out and the man pulled me back in” by her hair. The two men drove off with the alleged victim, Bracic said.
“We went to a gasoline station after that,” the victim testified. “I just heard the driver and passenger say they were going to rape me.”
The 13-year-old girl wasn’t sure what just happened so she walked to a friend’s house and they consulted with his mother, who went over to the 11-year-old’s house to see if she got home safely, Bracic said. When they realized the girl had not made it home they called police, the prosecutor said.
Officers who responded to the call soon realized it was related to a call about an 11-year-old girl who showed up at her aunt’s home, Bracic said.
The two men went to a gas station near Raitt Street and Edinger Avenue, Bracic said. As the driver got out to pay, Plascencia held his hand over the 11-year-old’s mouth, Bracic said.
They drove to a “dark, abandoned lot” across the street where Salgado first raped the girl while Plascencia held her down, Bracic alleged. Then “they traded places,” the prosecutor added.
“They slap her, they bite her,” Bracic said. “She’s bruised, injured and they decide they’re not done.”
The two drove to another “dark, abandoned lot” by Valley High School, where they continued to rape her, Bracic said.
The victim recognized at one point she was near her aunt’s house so she asked if she could be let go there and she walked to her aunt’s residence, Bracic said.
“She was emotionally traumatized, she could barely speak,” when officers arrived, Bracic said.
The girl was taken in for a medical exam the next day and a nurse gathered evidence. The girl was so “badly bruised” she was too swollen for some exams so she had return the next day, Bracic said.
The evidence collected was “consistent with a brutal sexual assault,” Bracic said.
Police tracked down surveillance video from the gas station but investigators could not identify the suspects, Bracic said.
In 2016, the case was revived when officers received a DNA hit with Salgado, Bracic said.
Police narrowed down other friends of Salgado’s from 1999 and focused on Plascencia, Bracic said. Investigators were able to get a DNA match with Plascencia, she said.
Plascencia’s attorney, Sharon Marshall, said her client “drank and did drugs to an extreme degree” at the time because it “served to soothe his reality of abuse, abandonment and homelessness.”
The defense attorney told jurors, “You will hear evidence of a total and complete blackout” during the night with the girl.
A forensic psychologist testified that the defendant had no pathology tending toward sexual deviancy.
The defense attorney said the victim told officers a “story of force from the very beginning of the case, but you’ll hear that story was not true.”
Marshall said there were “inconsistencies that will make you wonder.”
The two initial calls to police did not mention sexual assault, the defense attorney said.
The next year at a church fair the victim saw Salgado and, “She told her mother it was the driver and she split,” Marshall said. “There was no call to police, no call of a sexual assault.”
Marshall said there were “problematic aspects to the DNA evidence.”