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Orange County

Couple Deny Guilt in Sex Case

Rancho Santa Margarita residents who allegedly molested girls in videos each face 90 felonies.

October 04, 2003|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

A Rancho Santa Margarita couple accused of filming themselves molesting young girls in Orange County and Texas pleaded not guilty Friday to 90 felonies in a case that a prosecutor described as the most disturbing she has ever seen.

David S. Hwang and his wife, Sheila M. Sikat, face 75 years to life in prison if convicted of the charges, which have grown as investigators and Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Costello reviewed more than 100 videotapes seized last month from the couple's home.

All but one of the new counts filed in the amended complaint revolve around the allegation that the couple molested the same relative five times over a two-year period, Costello said. They were also charged with a single count of possession of child pornography after more than 1 million images were found on Hwang's personal computers, she said.

In all, authorities in Orange County and Texas say they have counted eight victims on the tapes but have not identified them all. Most of the victims are believed to be from Texas.

Texas authorities are building their own case against Hwang, who lived and worked in Laredo after being expelled from Texas A&M. Laredo police have issued a warrant for his arrest. But Costello said Hwang would not be extradited to Texas until after he is tried here.

During their arraignment Friday in a Laguna Niguel courtroom, Hwang, 31, and Sikat, 23, stood several feet apart behind a screen as attorney Rudy Lowenstein entered not-guilty pleas on their behalf.

Hwang looked downward throughout the proceeding, while Sikat gazed straight ahead. They never exchanged a glance.

Hwang was initially charged with 21 counts of child molestation; Sikat with four counts.

Those charges, however, were based on the content of one video, and police said it was initially unclear whether Sikat was a willing participant. But as the investigation continued, Costello said it became clear she played an active role in the alleged sex crimes, encouraging, instigating and participating in the molestations.

Under the amended complaint, Hwang and Sikat each are charged with one count of sodomy and possession of child pornography, five counts of kidnapping for molestation and using a minor for sex acts, 19 counts of lewd acts upon a child, and 59 counts related to actual sex acts.

The charges stem from five incidents beginning in 2001 in which the couple allegedly picked up the same relative from her home, misrepresenting why they were taking her, Costello said.

The tapes show the girl being molested at the couple's home for a total of three hours and 47 minutes over five nights, she said.

Lowenstein said he has doubts about the veracity of the police reports and said he was reserving judgment until all the evidence is disclosed. "I don't believe what I see in the reports," he said. "I'm not going to pre-judge any of the evidence. I haven't seen those tapes."

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