ONTONAGON - The grandmother of the two alleged victims in her husband's criminal sexual conduct case said Wednesday she still believes he is innocent, in what could be the final testimony of his trial.
"I knew the price that I was going to pay - that I would lose my children, I would lose my granddaughters," said Barb Gonzales. "I knew. But I also knew in my heart that my husband did not do this, and I knew I had to do what was right ... and I have paid the price. And I would do it again. As painful as it is to have lost my children and my grandchildren, I would do it again."
Wednesday was the third day in the trial of Ruben Gonzales, 57, of Ontonagon. Gonzales is charged with two counts each of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony punishable by up to life in prison, and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, a 15-year felony. He is accused of digitally penetrating one of the girls on multiple occasions, and touching her and her cousin on their vaginas.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Barb Gonzales testifies in defense of her husband, Ruben Gonzales, during the third day of his trial for criminal sexual conduct in Ontonagon County Circuit Court. Gonzales is charged with two counts each of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly molesting his step-granddaughters, who were 9 years old at the time they made the allegations.
Gonzales said she had not noticed a change in behavior from the girls during the time the abuse allegedly occurred. However, she said, they had often reminded her that they'd been able to spend less time with her since she married Ruben Gonzales in 2008. When she would have to tell the girls she and Ruben had plans, she said, they would say things such as "You never spend as much time with us anymore because Ruben came to live here."
"They were very jealous," she said.
Other witnesses called Wednesday included the prosecution's final witness, an expert on children's reactions to abuse, as well as defense witnesses who interviewed the alleged victims after their reports or who were family friends of the Gonzales family.
The defense rested following Barb Gonzales' testimony. Prosecuting Attorney James Jessup said Wednesday he did not plan to call any rebuttal witnesses.
Much of Tuesday's testimony from the two alleged victims centered on shifting accounts of when events took place and what they included. But such things aren't unusual for juvenile victims of sexual abuse, said Thomas Cottrell, vice president of counseling services for the YWCA Domestic Crisis Center in Grand Rapids.
"Typically, a fabrication is very much a rote response, and that's one of the things we look for in children's disclosures, is an identical, repetitive story, which looks like it's rehearsed," he said. "In my experience, children who are fabricating will disclose almost verbatim what they said the previous times, because it isn't a genuine story."
Cottrell said he considered it very unlikely that the children would continue to fabricate such a story for the two years since the allegations.
"Given the scrutiny with which those stories are typically looked at, and the painful discussions that children would have to go through in order to maintain that, I can't fathom what agenda would be playing itself out in a child's mind that they would be consistent over that amount of time with that amount of story," he said. "I would certainly expect an early recantation, just to avoid the rigors of maintaining that kind of fallacy."
Cottrell said children may also have a harder time remembering when events took place, instead jumbling together different details from similar incidents.
Barb Gonzales said the girls, age 9 at the time, would tell the normal variety of evasions children tell.
"They could be standing there doing something to each other with me watching them and they would say, 'It was the other one that did it,'" she said.
Gonzales said she did not distinguish between storytelling and lying.
Gonzales said she had a contentious relationship with her children, who were parents of the girls. In the case of the alleged victim of the second-degree charge, she said, she had informed the father earlier that summer she would be trying to get custody of the child because of the father's drug use and inability to find a job, she said.
On the night of July 5, 2010, Barb Gonzales said the mother of the alleged victim of the first-degree crimes told her the girl had been crying because she wanted to go home to Nebraska.
Around 11:30 that night, she saw the girl and the mother leaving to pack. The first girl told her they were leaving to stay at the house of Don Domitrovich, a friend of the girl's mother, "because he had air conditioning." When they left, Gonzales said, the girl consented to giving her a hug.
"I said 'Come give me a hug,' and she started to run and she gave me a hug, and the mother was screaming at her to get in the truck," she said. "Ruben said, 'Where's mine?' and she kind of started to run back, and (the mother) started to scream to get in the truck."
Barb Gonzales and friends of hers who would come over for coffee testified about the layout of the house and the family's morning routine.
Barb Gonzales said from the kitchen, it was possible to hear footsteps on the hallway of the second floor, where the girls' bedrooms and Gonzales' was.
In testimony Tuesday, the alleged victims said most of the incidents happened in the morning. Gonzales and other friends said they would find the chronology unlikely; on most mornings, she and friends said the girls would be awake and downstairs playing by 8:30 a.m., while Ruben Gonzales would not be awake until 10 a.m. or so.
Barb Gonzales said she had asked her husband several times if he committed the crimes. He said "no."
"If I had thought for one minute my husband touched my granddaughters, I'd be on trial right now, and he would be dead," she said.
Ruben Gonzales did not take the stand Wednesday. Beth LaCosse, one of his attorneys, said medication Gonzales is taking for ongoing health problems left him too disoriented to take the stand.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today. If no further witnesses are called, both sides will present their closing arguments and the case will head to the jury.