After months of denial, even in the face of two incriminating DNA tests, a storefront pastor entered a guilty plea Wednesday to charges he sexually assaulted an 11-year-old member of his congregation who subsequently bore him a son.
Modesto Reyes' decision to enter a plea of guilt under the Alford Doctrine to charges of first-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor came after jury selection in the case began earlier this week.
Reyes' plea brought tears to his disbelieving wife, and upset his adult son, who looked on from the rear of the courtroom.
"I wish he had gone to trial," said Melvin Reyes, 25, outside the courtroom.
Under the plea, accepted by Superior Court Judge David Gold, Modesto Reyes faces a minimum of five years and a maximum of 45 years in prison. In an Alford plea, an accused does not admit guilt, but acknowledges sufficient evidence exists for a conviction.
Reyes has been held since his bail was set at $750,000 after his arrest in June 2006.
Melvin Reyes continued to maintain his father's innocence, replying, "No," when asked by a reporter if he believed his father had repeatedly sexually assaulted the girl and impregnated her.
Two separate DNA tests show that Reyes, the pastor of Iglesia De Dios Te Llama on Broad Street in Hartford, is the probable father of the baby, now nearly 17 months old.
Prosecutor Sandra Tullius told the court that the girl attended Reyes' church in 2004 and 2005 and that he took a liking to her. They ate cookies together, fasted together and then in August of 2005, Tullius said, Reyes took the girl, then age 11, behind Bulkeley High School in a church van and sexually assaulted her.
"He removed her clothes and his clothes and told her it wouldn't hurt," Tullius said.
The following month, Tullius said, Reyes called the girl to the church, told her that his heart was hurting and that only one thing could help him. He then sexually assaulted her again.
When Reyes called her to his office, "she knew what she had to do," Tullius said, adding that Reyes assaulted the girl on at least three other occasions.
The girl, now 13, gave birth to the baby at Hartford Hospital in May of 2006.
Reyes faced 17 charges and more than 200 years in prison in connection with the sexual assaults. Twice this year, Reyes rejected plea deals in the case over the advice of his attorney. In both cases, the deal would have netted him a sentence of 15 years.
Defense attorney William Gerace told the court Wednesday that he had urged his client to enter a straight guilty plea instead of the Alford plea.
Gerace said that Reyes' sentence could be lengthened as a result of taking an Alford plea.
"I have explained it to him ad nauseam," Gerace told the court. "It's my job to tell him what I think and that's what I think."
Tullius said Reyes' plea under the doctrine showed that he still was not accepting responsibility for his actions and that it would give the state another reason to seek to elevate the length of his prison sentence.
Gold ordered a pre-sentencing investigation and scheduled Reyes' sentencing for Dec. 14. The victim's family is expected to submit information at Reyes' sentencing, Tullius said.