Coach Takes Stand to Dispute Touching Charges


By Shirley Hsu
DAILY BREEZE - Saturday 9, 2006

In emotional and emphatic testimony Friday, a popular Wilmington youth softball coach denied he molested any of the five teenage girls who allege he touched them sexually during practices and tournaments. “Never, never, never, ever,” testified Marco Espinoza, 59, on the seventh day of his sex trial in Long Beach Court. “I wouldn’t even dream of anything like that.”

Espinoza faces 10 felony and four misdemeanor charges of inappropriate touching of players. The defense also called two of Espinoza’s children, former players, parents of players and an assistant coach to the stand Friday to defend Espinoza. The defendant’s daughter, Laura Watson, head coach of the Harbor Area Wolf Pack traveling softball team, broke down as she spoke of her father’s dedication to working with hundreds of youths for three decades. “He is not a molester,” she said. “He is not capable of doing the things these people are accusing him of.”

Through the testimony Friday, the defense portrayed Espinoza as a family man and volunteer coach who is in ailing health, pitting testimony from character witnesses against the words of the five former players who allege the abuse occurred from 2004 to 2005. The most serious of the charges are from a 16-year-old girl who testified last week that Espinoza kissed her breasts during a tournament and penetrated her with his finger during a private batting lesson.

The defense, headed by attorney Robert Ernenwein, tried to show the 16-year-old was under pressure from her father to perform well in softball and obtain a college scholarship. The girl testified last week that her father never pressured her, while witnesses Friday testified to the contrary. Four teenage softball players said while Espinoza frequently placed his hands on their shoulders, hips, and the sides of their rib cages to position them for batting, he never touched them inappropriately. Several girls testified last week that Espinoza touched the sides of their breasts during batting practice and fondled them while massaging injuries. Two parents who frequently attended practices and a field-maintenance employee also said they never witnessed anything inappropriate.

Gary Kern, executive director of the Wilmington athletic complex where the girls allege some of the abuse occurred, said he has known Espinoza for 30 years and, as a coach himself, is aware of the possibility of inappropriate behavior from Espinoza. Jacinto “Jesse” Espinoza, who is Espinoza’s son and also a coach, testified his father and mother have been married happily about 36 years. He denied accusations he threatened a 17-year-old witness with revealing “dirt” about her personal problems if she testified against his father. He said the girl approached him and, after he repeatedly rejected her requests to speak to him, he finally agreed to chat with her only in the presence of an athletic director who stood a few feet away. “She said, ‘Jesse, I’m so sorry.

The detective put things in my head, and made me feel uncomfortable’,” he testified. He was shocked at the accusation of witness intimidation, he said. The 17-year-old testified Tuesday that the detectives made her uncomfortable when they asked her the specific number of times she was touched, but did not put words in her mouth about the molestation. Espinoza testified Friday that he has never taken money for coaching. “I give back what softball has given to my daughter and what baseball has given to my son-a chance to educate themselves,” he said.

The defense continues its case Monday, and plans to call experts in interviewing techniques and batting instruction.