Murrieta man admits sexually abusing girl, denies molesting victim's sister

The Press-Enterprise, California/April 15, 2008

A Murrieta man Tuesday apologized and cried as he admitted molesting the younger of two sisters he is charged with sexually abusing during his daughter's sleepover parties at their home in 2005 and 2006.

"The whole time in my mind I'm thinking: I shouldn't be doing this. Why am I doing this," defendant Gilbert Simental said as he described touching a 9-year-old girl.

His testimony came at the end of his trial on child-molestation charges at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley.

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The 49-year-old sniffled, glanced at the gold band on his finger, then looked up toward his attorney.

Defense attorney Miles Clark asked Simental if he was sorry for his actions.

"I wanted so many times to tell her how sorry I am," Simental said, referring to the younger girl. "I wish I could take it all back... She truly is the victim here."

The Press-Enterprise does not publish the names of minors believed to have been victims of sexual abuse.

While Simental admitted touching one of his daughter's friends when she slept at their home twice in 2005, he denied doing anything to the girl's older sister, who was 10, during a sleepover in July 2006.

Prosecutor Burke Strunsky questioned Simental about the prior testimony of two leaders from his Jehovah's Witnesses congregation. Earlier in the trial, John Vaughn and Andrew Sinay testified that Simental told them he touched both sisters.

Simental described the incident with the older girl as different from the two incidents with the younger girl. The older girl resisted and Simental continued to touch her for a moment before he stopped, Sinay testified.

However, Simental testified that he touched the older girl's leg while they were playing a game in the Simentals' swimming pool that requires people to close their eyes and tag other people.

"Both of those gentlemen could not remember everything that I said," Simental said, referring to Sinay and Vaughn. "I'm the one that did it. I'll remember it my whole life."

Strunsky paused for a moment.

"Well, Mr. Simental, so will these two young girls," Strunsky said.

The prosecutor recalled Sinay's testimony about Simental's decision to touch the older girl. The elder testified that Simental's decision to touch the girl while she slept was fueled by Simental's earlier contact with her in the pool.

'Not What I Told Him'

"I remember specifically what I told him and that's not what I had told him," Simental replied. "Both of them could not say they remembered all the details."

But, Strunsky said, both elders remember Simental saying that he molested both girls.

Clark later asked Simental if his conversations with Sinay and Vaughn were recorded.

They were not, Simental said.

Strunsky asked Simental if there was any reason other than sexual curiosity to explain why he touched the younger girl.

"I don't know why," Simental replied in a hushed voice. "It wasn't for any specific purpose...There is no reason or excuse at all."

During questioning by attorney Clark, Simental explained the toll his actions have taken on his life and his family.

Simental said he has not been able to return to his home since August 2006, when Murrieta police got involved.

Family Devastated

Simental cried as he described how he lost his children and his wife filed for legal separation from him in the wake of the child-molestation allegations.

"My wife and I were devastated," he said through tears. "They accused my wife of failing to protect our children. All we've ever done is protect our kids. I wish I could take back everything I did so I could be with them."

Simental said his wife had to file restraining orders against him at the urging of child protective services to prove she was taking steps to protect their children, he said.

"And it's been hard not being able to go home every day and be home with my kids," Simental said as he dabbed his eyes with the white handkerchief.

Clark then asked his client if his testimony was an honest account of what happened.

"Yes, it is," Simental said. "I've wanted to be able to tell the truth the whole time."

Clark and Strunsky are scheduled to deliver their closing statements to a jury today.

If convicted of all charges, Simental faces 45 years to life in prison.

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