Jury in Coach Case Hits Impasse
By Shirley Hsu
A mistrial was declared Wednesday in the case of a well-known Wilmington softball coach accused of lewd acts with several of his teenage players. After seven days of deliberation, the jury told Long Beach Superior Court Judge Arthur Jean it was deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquitting Marco Espinoza, 59, an assistant coach for the Harbor Area Wolf Pack traveling softball teams. Espinoza faced about nine years in prison had he been found guilty of the six felony counts of lewd acts upon a 14- or 15-year old, three misdemeanor counts of sexual molestation or annoyance of child, and one charge of adult sexual battery on a former player.
Defense attorney Robert Ernenwein said he was “very pleased” at the outcome and was hopeful that his client would not be retried. The ten jurors who voted for acquittal believed the case had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that the defense was more compelling, Ernenwein said after talking to some of the jurors. During the emotionally charged trial that lasted more than two weeks, jurors heard testimony from more than five girls who said Espinoza fondled them during batting instruction and while massaging their injuries from 2004-2005. In the most serious charges, the main witness, who is now 16, testified the coach kissed her breasts and digitally penetrated her.
Defense attorneys Ernenwein and Nancy Kardon called character witnesses to testify to Espinoza’s reputation in the community, and argued that the girls were led by investigators to make false allegations against the coach. Deputy District Attorney Robert Hight said he did not want to discuss the case in detail while it is ongoing, but said that at one point in deliberations all but one juror favored a guilty verdict.
“The seven day deliberation had the jury swinging from 11-1 in favor of a guilty verdict to its final ballot of 10-2 for not guilty”, he said. It is unclear when a decision will be made to whether to retry Espinoza. But the case is back in court Oct. 27, at which time a new trial date would be set, Hight said. Ernenwein said the jury foreman was highly critical of the police investigation. The jury heard testimony from a forensic psychologist and a police expert, who called the investigation inadequate because interviews with the alleged victims were not taped to prove interviewers did not ask leading questions, and police did not pursue other leads that could have exonerated Espinoza.
Hight argues taping interviews is often done with very young children, but is not a common practice with older adolescents and adults because they as vulnerable to suggestibility. Ernenwein, calling this his “finest moment as a lawyer”, said he plans to continue to represent Espinoza if the case goes to trial again. When the (initial) 60 jurors were first informed what the allegations were, there was an audible gasp in the court room. That told you all you needed to know that this was going to be an uphill battle”, he said.
The father of the 16-year-old girl said Wednesday that despite the outcome, his daughter won an important victory. “The day she came forward and spoke out and got away from this man she won. She started healing at that moment”, said the father. “She won again when she came into court and confronted him and said what he did to her and how she felt about him”. He added that he was appalled at the defense’s portrayal of the girl in its effort to discredit her testimony. “My daughter is a wonderful young woman., an excellent student and athlete…She has also shown a ton of guts. Too many molestation victims stay silent”, he said.
Jesse Espinoza, Marco Espinoza’s son, says news of the mistrial “wasn’t the greatest news in the world”, but the family was heartened by the jury’s decision. “The jurors sat and listened for two weeks, and they got to hear all the facts. When the 10 of the 12 jurors found him not guilty on all counts, that’s powerful”, he said. “We are going to do whatever it takes to restore his name and dignity”.
How Jury Voted in Misconduct Case
I am a criminal defense lawyer privileged to represent Marco Espinoza, a softball coach and youth mentor, who has been coaching in the Harbor Area for more that 30 years.
In 2005, Espinoza was accused of molesting some girls he coached on a youth girls softball team managed by his daughter. The girls were on the same team and were friends with one another, as were the parents. Their allegations were all made at or about the same time and marked the first time in Espinoza’s 30-year history of volunteering that he has ever been accused of misconduct.
His trail in September resulted in a mistrial with the jury voting 10-to-2 in favor of an acquittal. Later, and in separate reports in your newspaper, it was indicated that the jury voted 11-to-1 for guilty. Those assertions are false.
The foreman of the jury filed a declaration with the court detailing the various ballots in the jury room. The foreman indicated in his declaration that in balloting the jury was initially leaning in favor of acquittal 7 votes to 5, ultimately voting 10-2 for not guilty.
I was therefore dismayed to read in your newspaper comments indicating otherwise
ROBERT S ERNENWEIN
Attorney at Law, Torrance