Murrieta Man Convicted Of Molesting Sisters Ages 9, 10

Jury Takes Less Than Day To Find Simental Guilty

KNBC, Los Angeles/April 17, 2008

Murrieta, California -- A 49-year-old man was found guilty Thursday of molesting two young sisters at his home in Murrieta, City News Service reported.

Gilbert Simental was accused of molesting a then-9-year-old girl in 2005 and her 10-year-old sister in 2006.

It took less than a day for the eight-woman, seven-man jury to find him guilty of three counts of lewd acts upon a child under 14.

The jury also found true an allegation of having multiple victims. He faces 45 years to life when he is sentenced May 23 by Judge F. Paul Dickerson.

The emotional reading of the verdict was attended by the girls and their mother.

While testifying in his own defense on Tuesday, Simental confessed to molesting the younger sister but continued to deny touching her sibling during a July 15, 2006, pool party/sleepover at his home.

During closing arguments Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Burke Strunsky told the jury that Simental's surprise confession was a ploy to escape a harsher sentence, which would come with a conviction for molesting multiple victims.

"This is the defense of a desperate man," he said. "He has no credibility."

But defense attorney Miles Clark said Simental had no reason to tell the truth about one girl and lie about the other.

Church elders in the Jehovah's Witness congregation Simental attended testified during the trial that he told them he molested the girls.

The elders had tried to avoid testifying by claiming clerical privilege, but Dickerson ruled Simental talked to them not in a confessional setting but in a group setting.

The girls' mother testified during the trial that her younger daughter liked to stay at Simental's house, but late in 2005 her behavior changed and she no longer wanted to stay there.

She said that both daughters told her in late July 2006 that they had been touched by the defendant. She said she didn't call police but did call church elders.

The sisters and Simental's daughter all met at school and belonged to the same Jehovah's Witness congregation, according to testimony.

The mother said she told a teacher about the alleged molestation, and school officials called police.

Another case involving a third girl has not yet come to trial, but Strunsky had her testify in an attempt to show that the defendant has a propensity for molesting little girls.

Simental is set for arraignment on that case May 2.

Jurors deliberated for about two hours Wednesday and asked that testimony by two church elders be read back to them before being dismissed for the day.

Thursday they announced at about 2:45 p.m. that they had reached a verdict.

"Mr. Simental is now facing the rest of his life in prison because of the courage of these little girls," Strunsky said.

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