One man’s repeated sexual contact with a local girl came to a criminal conclusion Monday with a pair of guilty pleas to felony counts that could send him to jail for 20 years.
José Napoleon Herrera-Martinez, 50, pleaded guilty in Charlottesville Circuit Court to exposing himself to a child and using an electronic device to solicit sex from a child.
“I accept your pleas of guilt,” said Judge Claude E. Worrell.
Prosecutor Andrew Wilder laid out a troubling set of facts about the violation of a girl named in court documents only as K.G.
“This started when she was in third grade,” Wilder told the court.
Wilder said that Herrera-Martinez lived with the girl’s family and would take advantage of times when the parents were away to lure K.G. to his bedroom at the Prospect Avenue residence.
“She stated that after each incident he would buy her candy or toys and tell her not to tell her parents,” Wilder said.
The abuse only came to light because a cousin on an extended-family vacation at the Outer Banks happened to see K.G. talking on a FaceTime call with a man back in Charlottesville, Wilder said. The cousin captured evidentiary video of Herrera-Martinez exposing himself on the call, Wilder told the court.
Wilder also told the court that K.G. informed a forensic interviewer at the Foothills Child Advocacy Center that Herrera-Martinez put his penis into her, against her objections, on multiple occasions. Defense attorney Bryan Jones offered nothing in defense, and Herrera-Martinez had no questions.
Wilder told the court that the commonwealth agreed to drop a rape charge in exchange for the two guilty pleas.
Pressed afterwards for an explanation, Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania said the move was made because the rape charge would require K.G., now 12 years old, to testify and possibly endure additional trauma.
“The commonwealth had two other charges that it could prove without her testimony,” Platania told The Daily Progress.
Platania said that his office ensured that the two guilty pleas contain no sentencing cap, so Herrera-Martinez could be sentenced to the maximum term of 20 years. Whatever term he gets, Platania said, Herrera-Martinez must also register as a sex offender.
“We were set for trial,” said Platania, “but the trauma of testifying might have caused great anguish to this child.”
Retired forensic psychologist Jeffrey Fracher said that the decision makes sense.
“It’s a choice that is often made because it’s really awful for these kids to revisit it and be put on cross-examination,” Fracher told The Daily Progress. “The bottom line is you get a conviction, you put him away, and get him on the sex offender registry.”
The handcuffed and shackled Herrera-Martinez sat through the roughly 40-minute hearing which was translated into Spanish for him by an interpreter.
The judge ordered the creation of a presentence report and ordered Herrera-Martinez back for sentencing on Aug. 10.