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O.C. teen convicted as an adult of sex assault

August 14, 2007|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

The youngest defendant in Orange County to be charged as an adult in a rape case was convicted Monday of preying on four 12-year-old boys in his Anaheim neighborhood as they walked to and from school.

A jury deliberated less than a day before finding Jose Ignacio Avina guilty of 11 felonies, including sodomizing two of the boys, robbing three and threatening the lives of three.

Avina, who was 14 when he was arrested in 2004, showed little reaction during the 30 or so minutes it took for the clerk to read the verdict in a Santa Ana courtroom, sitting for most of the time with his hands clasped in front of him.

His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Doloris Yost, followed Avina out of the courtroom to speak with him in a holding cell and could not be reached for comment.

Avina, now 17, is being held in a juvenile facility. He faces up to life in adult prison when he is sentenced Nov. 30. If Avina had been charged as a juvenile, he could have been released after eight years, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Kal Kaliban. The defense attorney can still argue that Avina be sentenced as a juvenile, and Kaliban expects that she will.

The prosecutor said he was prepared to oppose any such motion, maintaining the decision to prosecute Avina as an adult was justified by several elements, including the number of victims, his use of a weapon and the fact that he kidnapped some of them. Kaliban said he has tried "all kinds of adults" in similar cases, and "if you take age out of it, this guy is scarier than anyone I've dealt with."

The trial in Orange County Superior Court lasted nearly five days, with Kaliban warning jurors during opening statements that the testimony was "going to be upsetting" as the victims revisited a series of sexual assaults and robberies that took place from October to November 2004.

One of the victims, now 15, testified that he was approached by Avina on Nov. 15, 2004, as he walked home from school. He said Avina was riding a bicycle and threatened him with a screwdriver, telling him to get on the bike. "I thought he was going to poke me in the stomach. I thought he was going to stab me," the boy testified.

He said he was then forced to go to the rooftop of a nearby apartment building where Avina, still holding the screwdriver, told him to drop his pants. He said he agreed because Avina "said he was going to kill me."

Forensic evidence presented at the trial included DNA material that Kaliban said indicated that Avina was the attacker in two of the sexual assaults.

Yost did not call any witnesses on her client's behalf.

During her opening statement, she conceded that the facts and events of the case "are tragic, very tragic" but asked jurors to keep open minds.

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