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Three convicted in child torture case are sentenced to prison

March 4, 2013 | 11:15 am
Martin MoralesThree people were sentenced for their roles in a high-profile child torture case that revealed breakdowns in Los Angeles County's troubled child protective services agency.

In the case, a 5-year-old boy, identified as Johnny, was rescued from a dark closet in San Bernardino County in 2009. Much of his body had been burned by a glue gun and hot spoons. He had been starved and sodomized, taunted and punched, forced to eat soap and crouch motionless in corners, authorities said.

Martin Morales was sentenced Friday to 78 years to life; Juan Carlos Santos-Herrera received 32 years to life; and Crystal Rodriguez received four years in prison.

Morales, 35, and Santos-Herrera, 22, had been found guilty of torture, child abuse and sodomizing a child under 10 years of age. Rodriguez, 35, was convicted of child endangerment after failing to protect another 12-year-old victim from the perpetrators, according to the prosecutor, David Foy.

"This is a very appropriate sentence," Foy said. "These defendants subjected Johnny to the most vile, inhumane treatment. It's good that they will spend the rest of their lives in prison."

Morales, a gang member known as Bullet, was the boyfriend and methamphetamine supplier of Johnny’s mother. Santos-Herrera was Morales’ friend, and Rodriguez was Morales' wife. Johnny's mother, Desiree Marie Gonzales, is being tried separately on child abuse charges.

The young victim's adoptive mother told the court that the boy suffered extreme emotional trauma and must take medications to get through each day.

Child welfare officials in Los Angeles County might have spared Johnny from the torture. Two years before his rescue, allegations that he had been abused were dismissed as unfounded and the officials determined that he was "not at risk."

An internal review by the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services concluded that the finding was wrong — the result of a shallow inquiry in which the agency misjudged what little information it collected.

Another internal county report also concluded that deep flaws in the quality of the department's investigations unit played a pivotal role in the county's failure to help Johnny before the torture started.

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--Garrett Therolf

Photo: Mug shot of Martin Roland Morales, who was sentenced Friday for torturing and sodomizing a 5-year-old boy. Credit: San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department

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