Alleged cult leader pleads no contest

Hollister Free Lance/July 11, 2005
By Erin Musgrave

Hollister - Alleged cult leader Richarde Monde pleaded no contest Monday to two misdemeanor charges of molesting a child and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, avoiding a possible three-year prison sentence if convicted of felony child molestation.

Monde and his attorneys, Arthur Cantu and Greg La Forge, accepted the plea bargain Deputy District Attorney Denny Wei offered instead of going back to trial for a second time. A judge declared a mistrial after the previous jury deadlocked in an 11-1 vote in favor of the prosecution in April.

La Forge sidestepped answering whether Monde’s no contest plea was an admission of guilt to the prosecution’s claim that he forced a 7-year-old child, now 14, to touch his penis in order to teach her about her sexuality.

“He did want to proceed to trial to proclaim his innocence, but he took this offer to avoid what he was facing,” La Forge said. “We’re not pleading guilty. The only reason we wanted to take advantage of the plea bargain was to avoid any possible prison sentence.”

Monde, who the prosecution painted as a cult leader that allegedly forced a group of women to perform bizarre sex acts on him and each other while attempting to make it as musicians in a band called South Street, could face a year in the county jail. The likely result of the plea bargain will require Monde to register as a sex offender, Cantu said. He will be sentenced on Sept. 2.

La Forge said he will ask the judge to consider a sentence that includes probation and community service.

“I don’t feel he’s a threat to the community at all and that he should not have to spend any time in jail,” he said.

Wei said nothing changed factually between the first trial that almost resulted in a conviction and now, but he believes the plea deal was a good outcome for the case. And he will look for more than community service in the sentencing phase, Wei said.

“After the first trial and the hung jury, we were able to resolve it… and we felt it was a good resolution given the facts of the case,” Wei said. “He did plea to a sex crime, so we would expect a sentence that reflects that.”

One of the women who lived in the home with Monde at one time, Shannon Eaton, said she was relieved the case was over and everyone involved could have some type of closure. She also said she hopes a judge levels a steep sentence at the man she claimed brainwashed a host of women over a period of nearly two decades.

“I’ve never seen him concede to anything before, so he must have known his chances weren’t real good or he wouldn’t have plea bargained,” Eaton said. “He’s finally being held accountable to some degree for something he’s done.”

Cantu, who defended Monde in the original trial, said several issues raised during that trial contributed to his client’s decision to take the prosecution’s deal. A child custody battle Monde is enmeshed in with one of the women who testified against him, and litigation Monde and several of the women living in the home are embroiled in regarding property rights to the $850,000 property located in the hills above Aromas affected his decision, Cantu said.

The original trial concluded with a judge declaring a mistrial after jury members deliberated for nearly two days, trying to come to a consensus after hearing two days of often sexually explicit testimony in which the 14-year-old victim testified that Monde ordered her to touch him inappropriately.

Other women, including the victim’s mother and the woman entangled in the child custody battle with Monde, characterized the home Monde lived in with seven women at one time as a cult where the women were routinely forced to perform sex acts on him and each other.

La Forge, who said from the beginning that Monde’s living situation had no bearing on the criminal charges, said the district attorney’s plea bargain reaffirmed his belief that allegations of a cult were trumped up to cast an unfavorable light on his client.

“This had nothing to do with a lifestyle,” La Forge said. “It had nothing to do with a cult or any of that other garbage the DA fed the media from the beginning. If that would have worked they wouldn’t have made this offer.”

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