TS - Alleged child molestation case takes hit

TS Alleged child molestation case takes hit

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Marilyn Miles held up charges of lewd behavior with a minor against accused child molester Andrew Belant Wednesday, but told the district attorney that the evidence didn't support felony charges of sexual assault on the dates outlined in the complaint.

The Humboldt County District Attorney's Office case against Belant didn't perfectly line up with testimony from the alleged victims outlined during the preliminary hearing, meaning prosecutors must try to rebolster some of their claims later.

Belant, 25, was a youth pastor at the Eureka First Presbyterian Church and an after school aide at Jacoby Creek School. He was arrested in March and charged with two counts of molesting a child under 14 years old, and was later charged with 15 additional counts stemming from alleged acts with a total of four children. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Miles said that District Attorney Paul Gallegos had evidence to hold up lesser charges of lewd and lascivious behavior -- but not the more serious felony charges. She threw out a second complaint of forcible rape against one of the alleged young male victims.

Miles made clear that she was making no finding on whether illicit behavior occurred on other dates. Statements made by four minors during previous interviews allege that repeated molestation did happen.

Belant was brought into the courtroom handcuffed and in an orange jumpsuit, was seated next to his attorney Patrik Griego, and then uncuffed. Humboldt County Sheriff's Deputy Ben Nord testified that he'd learned Belant had also been an aide at Lafayette Elementary School, where he met one alleged victim.

Nord said that the 11-year-old boy told the deputy in a March Child Abuse Services Team Interview that Belant had touched his genitals more than 10 times over an unspecified period of time, and also performed oral copulation on the alleged victim seven times. A second alleged 10-year-old victim from Lafayette, in another March interview, also told investigators that Belant had touched him inappropriately.

But under cross examination by Griego, and upon reviewing an interview transcript, Nord said the first victim never gave a specific time that the alleged oral copulation occurred.

”John Doe 2 was having a difficult time explaining these events,” Nord said.

Miles commented that the complaints she had before her didn't allege any crime occurred in 2007, as much of the evidence suggested, only in 2008. She stressed the importance of specific dates and events in her consideration of the complaints.

Humboldt County Sheriff's Detective Troy Garey, who arrested Belant, testified that another alleged 11-year-old victim had told him during a CAST interview that he'd been sexually abused twice by the man he'd gotten to know in his role as youth pastor.

”He said he was terrified, shocked,” Garey said.

Another boy told Garey in a separate interview that he'd been inappropriately touched by Belant more than 20 times, including at a movie theater and during overnight church-related trips.

But again, under questioning by Griego, Garey said that while his report said the boy had been orally copulated, the transcript of the interview did not contain that specific allegation.

DA Investigator William Honsal said that when a search warrant was served at Belant's house on March 1, investigators found a computer that was allegedly running a program to delete all material on the hard drive. Honsal said it was quickly shut down, but had already apparently performed five of seven sweeps over the disk, which may make any information extremely difficult to retrieve.

Outside the courtroom, Gallegos said that the case didn't align with the evidence presented Wednesday, possibly because of the inherent difficulty in compelling testimony from minors in sexual assault cases.

”That certainly requires me to go back to determine if there was a misrecollection of statements,” Gallegos said.
He said the prosecution will be allowed to present evidence to show crimes were committed on other dates.

John Driscoll/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 04/17/2008 01:24:09 AM PDT