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The Region

O.C. Man Is Cleared by Mexican Court

Law: A successful appeal ends the ordeal of an Aliso Viejo church volunteer who was wrongly imprisoned for 6 1/2 years on sex abuse charges.

January 25, 2002|SCOTT MARTELLE and DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN YSIDRO, Calif. — An Orange County church volunteer who spent 6 1/2 years in a Baja prison was cleared of child sex-abuse charges Thursday by a Mexican federal appeals court, ending a protracted legal odyssey with an emotional celebration amid the smog and bustling traffic at the Tijuana border.

"I'm very relieved and very grateful," David Cathcart, 60, said, adding that his incarceration was marked by more than the passage of time. "My father passed away. Eight granddaughters were born. Two sons were married. You can't put a price on that."

But he's going to try. While the decision ends the criminal case, Cathcart said he plans to take legal action against those he believes conspired to imprison him to protect a politically connected director of La Puerta de Fe, or Door of Faith, the orphanage where Cathcart was a volunteer.

In the near future, though, Cathcart said he planned to celebrate Thursday afternoon with a vodka martini at the Aliso Viejo apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Tammy Stoller.

"I cried this morning--I don't know if it's sunk in yet," she said. "I worked for seven years to make this happen. I finally got what I prayed for."

Released From Prison Last May

Cathcart was released from prison last May when a state judge overturned his 1994 conviction on charges that he had sex with children at the orphanage in La Mision, a dusty crossroads town near Ensenada.

Judge Marta Flores Trejo ruled that the case was built on the lies of four boys who were coerced by former orphanage director Gabriel Diego Garcia, with whom Cathcart had argued over how donations--mostly from Orange County Christians--were being spent.

Diego, who could not be reached Thursday, has repeatedly denied misusing funds or orchestrating the accusations against Cathcart.

In October, a state-level appeals court overturned Flores' decision and ordered Cathcart to finish the 12-year sentence. Cathcart appealed, leading to Thursday's decision issued in Mexicali.

Rosa Arce, a spokeswoman for the state prosecutor in Ensenada, said the ruling had not been forwarded to that office, so she had no comment other than to reiterate prosecutors' belief that Cathcart is guilty.

As Dean Martin songs seeped from speakers outside a duty-free shop about 100 yards from the border, Cathcart said, "This ruling means that I'm free, that I don't have to live in fear of being extradited, and my name is cleared."

He insisted that he harbors no general anger toward the Mexican judicial system.

"It's the evildoing of one man in the beginning and several others after that," Cathcart said. "I dearly love the [Mexican] people. I would love to live there. I have a friend there that came between me and a knife. So how can you be angry?"

Cathcart, a former travel agent, said he has $250,000 in legal bills.

*

Times staff writer H.G. Reza contributed to this report.

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