A Rancho Santa Margarita woman has been convicted of repeatedly molesting a 4-year-old girl with her husband in a case that unfolded after authorities discovered a trunk full of homemade child porn movies in the couple's home.
The conviction Monday of Sheila Marie Sikat concluded a three-week trial in which jurors sat through nearly four hours of video showing the sexual abuse, the primary piece of evidence. The footage brought several jurors and the prosecutor to tears.
"Everything that she was convicted of was on those tapes," said prosecutor Beth Carmichael, a senior deputy district attorney.
The trial was deemed so disturbing that social workers were available to offer counseling to jurors after the verdict was read.
Sikat was found guilty of 55 charges, including six counts of penetration with a foreign object of a minor under 14 years old, 13 counts of lewd acts upon a child, 10 counts of oral copulation, five counts of using a minor for sex acts and one count of sodomy.
Sikat, 28, and her husband, David S. Hwang, were arrested in 2003 after a tipster sent authorities a videotape of sex movies.
When investigators searched the couple's home, they found a locked wooden trunk that they called a "little chest of horrors" in the couple's bedroom closet -- filled with 212 videotapes of young girls being molested, some shot in Orange County and others in the 1990s in Texas. The tipster later came forward to testify, identifying herself as a family friend of Sikat and Hwang. In court, she described how a housesitter had discovered the tapes while the couple was on their honeymoon in the Bahamas and told her about it.
The woman took extraordinary steps to remain anonymous, Carmichael said.
So as not to raise suspicion, she waited a week or two after the couple returned before sending a tape containing samples of the videos to authorities.
She included a typed letter with no fingerprints. She remained anonymous for two years before finally deciding to testify.
The tapes showed Hwang molesting girls, sometimes with Sikat, or, in earlier years, with a former girlfriend. The girl at the center of the Orange County charges, a relative of Sikat, is seen in four of the tapes. The couple molested the 4-year-old five times at their home in early 2001, producing nearly four hours of explicit content, according to the district attorney's office.
Sikat married Hwang, a businessman from Laredo,Texas, after he moved to southern Orange County, She worked in the marketing department at Pacific Life Insurance Co. in Newport Beach.
The couple met when Hwang got a job there in technical services.
The defense argued that Hwang drugged his wife without her knowledge before the sexual abuse took place.
Sikat's attorneys could not be reached for comment.
Prosecutors said the couple told the girl's parents they wanted to baby-sit her to practice their parenting skills. Once she was in their custody, they gave her a clear glass of dark-colored "medicine" that rendered the girl unconscious.
"When the video starts back up again, the child is unconscious, lying naked on the bed," Carmichael said.
The jury deliberated for less than two hours. The judge dismissed five counts of kidnapping.
Hwang, 36, was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison after he pleaded guilty in October 2006 to 60 counts of child molestation. He testified in his wife's defense. Hwang faces charges in Texas for allegedly molesting young girls there, including an 8-month-old.
Sikat, who will be sentenced in February, faces a maximum of 95 years in prison.