4.17.2008

ER - Molestation charges reduced

Molestation charges reduced

A church youth pastor and teacher’s aide was held over on lesser charges than were originally filed against him, a Humboldt County Superior Judge ruled Wednesday.

Andrew Brian Belant, who was 25 when he was arrested on felony charges of child molestation March 1, was held to answer on seven charges of child molestation. Belant, who worked at the Eureka First Presbyterian Church, Jacoby Creek Elementary School, Eureka’s Lafayette and Lincoln Elementary Schools and the Humboldt Child Care Council, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Judge Marilyn Miles reduced three counts of oral copulation, including one alleging Belant threatened to retaliate against the alleged victim, to lewd and lascivious acts upon a child younger than 14. She also said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support a charge of forcible rape, as it didn’t occur on the date alleged in the complaint.

There is sufficient evidence to move forward on two counts of lewd and lascivious acts upon a child younger than 14, Miles said, but not enough evidence to support a similar charge alleged by a different victim.

Belant sat beside his attorney, Patrick Griego, in an orange jail jumpsuit and didn’t speak during the proceedings. He wore glasses, had short, balding hair and facial hair.

District Attorney Paul Gallegos said some of the children’s testimony regarding the charges of oral copulation were contradictory, and that he thinks the transcripts from the victims’ interviews may be inaccurate.

“The fault is on my shoulders,” he said, adding that the DA’s office recently switched to a different interview transcribing company that charged a less-expensive rate.

And though the oral copulation charges were reduced to charges of lewd and lascivious acts, the sentencing range for both are the same — three, six or eight years in prison.

“It really has no impact on what his prison sentence is likely to be,” Gallegos said.

The four male victims are between 9 and 13 years old and knew Belant through after-school programs and from his role as a junior youth pastor. Three witnesses from law enforcement testified, and parts of the children’s interviews were read and referenced in court.

District Attorney Investigator William Honsal, who served a search warrant on Belant’s home around the time of his arrest, testified that when he arrived, a program that erases software was running on one of two computers in Belant’s room.

Honsal said after conferring with another investigator with expertise in that area, he learned the program completely deletes the content of hard drives in emergency situations. Honsal photographed the screen before pulling the computer cord from the wall, he said.

Though the alleged victims didn’t testify in person during Wednesday’s preliminary hearing, they would have to if the case goes to trial, Gallegos said. Most cases are resolved before that point, he said, but at the same time “you always want to prepare for trial.”

Belant is scheduled to appear in court for an arraignment April 29.

By KAREN WILKINSON, The Eureka Reporter
Published: Apr 16 2008, 10:33 PM · Updated: Apr 16 2008, 11:52 PM