ST. GEORGE — A 24-year-old man will soon be transported to prison for first-degree felony sexual abuse of a child following a sentencing hearing held Tuesday afternoon in 5th District Court.
Juandedios Flores appeared before District Judge Jeffrey C. Wilcox for a sentencing hearing on a case filed in September of last year following an investigation into a report involving a video and a photo allegedly found on the defendant’s cell phone.
The footage taken on the night of Sept. 12, 2020 showed a sexual act with an 8-year-old girl and an indecent image that “appeared to be of a young child,” and were found by the child’s family while going through the suspect’s phone, according to charging documents filed with the court.
The following morning, Flores was confronted by family members and fled the residence prior to the officers arriving. A search of the area turned up nothing until later that day when a call to 911 reported the suspect had left a note saying “he was sorry, was suicidal and would return later that same day,” the report stated.
Police were waiting near the apartment for the suspect’s intended return, according to the report, and after a short foot pursuit Flores was taken into custody and charged with first-degree felony sodomy of a child and second-degree felony sexual exploitation of a minor.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement Flores pleaded guilty to first-degree felony sexual abuse of a child during a hearing held last month. As part of the plea deal, the second-degree felony sexual exploitation of a minor charge and two misdemeanor counts of failing to stop at command of law enforcement were dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea.
During Tuesday’s hearing, defense attorney Larry Meyers addressed the court by saying that, above and beyond, within the agreement both parties reached that stipulated a 10-year prison sentence, there were other factors to be considered that would support a deviation from the stiffer sentence recommended in the presentence report.
The first, Meyers said, is that Flores confessed to the crime when interviewed by police and since then his client “has taken responsibility for his actions,” adding that Flores also entered into the plea agreement to avoid taking the case to trial.
Further, the attorney said, the defendant has no substantial criminal history and other than “this obviously serious offense,” he said, the crime was out of character for his client who was a productive citizen prior to the incident.
Moreover, a majority of those involved are in support of the agreement, Meyers told the judge, including other family members of the victim who were also advocating on the defendant’s behalf.
He closed by saying those factors should be considered, and it would be appropriate for the court to follow the recommendation of the parties.
“I think those are substantial reasons, and they’re good reasons to do so,” Meyers added.
The defendant also addressed the court by saying he was very sorry to the child and her family. He also thanked his own family for their support as the case has moved forward.
He closed by saying, “And from here on, I just want to pay for what I did,” and he went on by asking the court for a second chance to be released from prison so that he could support his family.
Prosecutor Eric Gentry confirmed the agreement reached between the parties but said he needed to clarify the state agreed to 10 years to life on the aggravated charge, not a 10-year sentence – a point the defense concurred with when Meyers said he was just stating the minimum his client would have to serve.
Gentry also said that many times, the victims in these types of cases “suffered terrible, terrible trauma that is ongoing throughout their lives.”
But added that this case is unusual in that the child allegedly has no idea anything happened, which the family is adamant about maintaining.
That is another reason the state entered into the agreement, he said, and to the parents’ wishes he said, “I hope it stays that way.”
Wilcox addressed the parties saying he would assume that any father would feel rage and “would be anguished” that they were unable to protect their child, and he went on to say he is very aware of the facts of the case and understands the father’s desire for the defendant to serve the maximum sentence of 15 years to life – it would be expected in a case such as this.
However, Wilcox said, addressing the father, “I am not going to sentence Mr. Flores to 15 years to life in prison; that would be the maximum sentence.”
Instead, the judge said he would follow the agreement and sentence the defendant to 10 years to life in Utah State Prison, saying his decision was based on three factors – the first being that Flores has a “very low past criminal history.”
Another factor is that the girl’s birth mother and other family members, with the exception of the child’s father, are allegedly in agreement with the settlement in the case and said he did not see how sentencing the defendant to a maximum would help the child in any way.
Finally, he said, and importantly, the decision to deviate from rendering a maximum sentence is that Flores “worked with authorities and didn’t fight the charges;” and because of that, Wilcox said “there was never a reason that this victim would have to testify and become aware of what happened to her.”
Wilcox sentenced the defendant by saying “A 10-year to life sentence is appropriate. And that’s what the sentence is going to be.”
Before moving on to the next case, Wilcox addressed the defendant by saying even though the child was asleep and unaware that anything had happened, this is not a victimless crime. There are many victims left in the wake of the case, including Flores’s own children and family.
Finally, the judge said, “It’s this Court’s opinion and hope that it should never happen again. And I’m sure all of the parties involved wish it never would have happened, including this defendant.”
The transport order was signed for Flores to be transported to Utah State Prison to begin serving his sentence immediately.
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