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Mahoning jury deliberates in trial of man accused of raping child

YOUNGSTOWN — Jurors will continue deliberations today in the case of a Youngstown man accused of raping a child six years ago.

The defense already is planning an appeal if jurors come back with a guilty verdict.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge John Durkin gave the case to the jury at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday after a day of testimony from defense witnesses, including the defendant.

Sergio Gonzalez, 23, is charged with two counts of rape that each carry a life prison sentence if convicted. The indictment accuses Gonzalez of forcing a girl to engage in sexual conduct on at least two occasions between December 2017 and June 2018. Gonzalez allegedly gave her marijuana before one incident and later threatened to tell on her for smoking it if she told anyone about the sexual encounters.

Gonzalez testified the girl – 11 at the time – approached him and asked him for marijuana and a cellphone. He said she was desperate for access to a phone after her mother had taken hers away.

“She said she would do anything for a phone and some weed,” he said. Gonzalez said he told her she did not have to do anything, and while he refused to give her marijuana he did go looking for a phone for her to use, but could not find it.

He testified on the day the girl’s mother came to his home to speak to his grandmother about the girl’s claims against him, two years after the alleged incidents, he was surprised, upset and embarrassed. He said he and his girlfriend, the mother of his children, left the house to stay with his girlfriend’s mom.

His grandmother, Kathleen Gonzalez also testified. She said she asked him to leave the house after a week, while the family tried to sort out the matter. She said she expected the girl and her mother to discuss the claims with her more, but they never did.

During her testimony, prosecuting attorney Kevin Day asked her about sexual relationships the defendant had with other girls who were foster children in the house.

Gonzalez said she ran a “safe home” and that she documented everything that happened, reported it all to Children Services and worked to have the girls removed from the home.

Durkin called a recess during Kathleen Gonzalez’s testimony, after defense attorney Aaron Meikle objected to the questions about his client’s prior sexual relationships.

Meikle said later that while Ohio’s rape shield laws prohibit defense attorneys from using a victim’s sexual history to discredit them, the law also protects defendants from having their sexual relations raised in court as evidence against them.

Meikle said if his client is convicted, he intends to appeal on that basis, and in that event he will file the appeal as soon as Gonzalez is sentenced.

During his closing arguments, Meikle called the girl’s testimony into question. He also said the experiential details of the incidents — her memories of how things happened, where they happened, and the intimate particulars of the story — are where she is inconsistent.

He also said it does not make sense that she would approach Gonzalez, alone, in his room on the day of the second incident.

“She wants us to believe she would voluntarily go into the room of the person she says sexually assaulted her, in the room where she says she was sexually assaulted?” he said. “This story does not add up. This case is full of doubt.”

Day said the girl has testified about the incident multiple times — to her school counselor, her mother, the Akron Children’s Hospital Child Advocacy Center interviewer, in a previous court testimony, and again Tuesday in Durkin’s court.

“She has always been consistent about the details that matter,” he said.

Have an interesting story? Contact Dan Pompili by email at dpompili@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.

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