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Child torture trial ends with three guilty verdicts

June 8, 2012 |  5:20 pm

Martin Roland Morales was convicted Friday for torturing and sodomizing a 5-year-old boy. Credit: San Bernardino Sheriff's DepartmentThree people were convicted Friday for their roles in a high-profile child torture case that revealed breakdowns in Los Angeles County's troubled child protective services agency.

A 5-year-old boy, known only 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.

Martin Roland Morales, 35, and Juan Carlos Santos-Herrera, 22, were found guilty of torture, child abuse and sodomizing a child under 10 years of age. Crystal 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. 

Morales could be sentenced to more than 78 years in prison. Santos Herrera could receive more than 32 years, and Rodriguez could get up to six years. Johnny's mother, Desiree Marie Gonzales, still awaits trial, Foy said.

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 the "child [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.

Foy said Johnny, now 8, lives in an adoptive home and is academically gifted and capable of quickly rattling off answers to complex math and spelling questions.

Prosecutors petitioned the court to allow him to provide his testimony by video camera to spare him the experience of confronting his abusers again, but the Victorville courtroom was unable to accommodate the request. As a result, he appeared deeply shaken by the experience and midway through his testimony he changed his story and said he was never abused, Foy said.


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-- Garrett Therolf

Photo: Martin Roland Morales was convicted Friday for torturing and sodomizing a 5-year-old boy. Credit: San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department