A jury on Tuesday found a former Newport Beach youth recreation leader guilty of 22 felony counts of lewd conduct, mostly for sucking the toes of more than a dozen young boys under his supervision.
Jurors also found Trenton Michael Veches, 32, guilty of three misdemeanor counts of assaulting a child. Veches' lawyer, John Patrick Dolan, said he will appeal the verdict, which could carry a sentence of more than 300 years in prison but with the possibility of parole.
Newport Beach police arrested Veches in April 2002, after a co-worker reported seeing him suck a child's toes at a recreation center. Veches ultimately admitted to similar encounters with 20 children, ranging from age 6 to 10 at the time of the incidents. Nineteen of the 22 felony counts in the conviction were for toe sucking and three were for touching buttocks. Veches admitted photographing some of the encounters.
Veches has insisted that his behavior was not sexual. During a two-week trial, Dolan emphasized that his client never touched the children's sex organs nor was ever seen sexually aroused by them.
One juror said some on the panel, which deliberated for two days, saw Veches as a tragic figure suffering from an obsession he didn't understand, and who didn't deserve so lengthy a sentence.
"I felt he was compelled," said juror Timothy Black, who is also a lawyer. "I believe he truly cared about the children and didn't think he was hurting them. But the law made us come to the conclusion we came to."
Black called the law vague, allowing a wide spectrum of physical contact with a minor to be construed as lewd.
"Speaking as someone whose initial instinct was not to convict, the problem was the law; the law is so broad," he said.
State law defines a lewd act with a minor as any physical contact with the purpose of satisfying or pursuing a sexual desire. Jurors determined that the toe sucking qualified because of the collection of sexually explicit images of children, downloaded from the Internet, that police discovered on Veches' home computer. Veches pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possessing child pornography.
The jury should not have made that connection, Dolan said outside court.
"I'm still convinced that my client is innocent," he said. "I think the jury was prejudiced by those pictures. They made the jury see red. He shouldn't have had it [pornography], but it was a misdemeanor wrong and the jury let it support ... felony charges."
Sobbing after the verdict was announced, Veches' mother -- who gave only her first name, Joyce -- said her son needs help, not prison time.
Newport Beach Det. Tom Monarch said the verdict was the right one. "The jurors used common sense and came to the conclusion that one's sexual desires ... do not change between home and work."
Veches is scheduled to be sentenced July 11.
Black said he and his fellow jurors were not allowed to consider the lengthy mandatory penalties Veches would have to face, which Black called too severe in this case.
"We're putting a guy away for doing something that the children may not have known they were being victimized," Black said.
Dolan said he plans to bring a psychological evaluation of Veches to the court's attention before the July 11 sentencing.
"He's suicidal; he is distraught," Dolan said of his client. "His whole career has been working with children. Now that's gone and he's just devastated."