Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu , a 60 year old foster father who had previously opened his home to scores of disabled children, was acquitted yesterday in a New York Supreme Court of endangering or sexually abusing several boys while they were in his care. The verdict followed a five week trial during which eight of Mr. Mugaburu’s accusers testified against him. Mr. Mugaburu had been denied bail and was held in jail for a year prior to his trial.
Mr. Mugaburu’s lawyer, Donald Mates, argued at trial that while Mr. Mugaburu was strict, he was not abusive. Mr. Mates cited to the fact New York City’s child welfare agency trusted Mr. Mugaburu so much that it had placed 95 boys in his care over 20 years. Mr. Mates further raised doubt about the credibility of the accusers, arguing they were coached.
The jury deliberated the 16 charges against Mr. Mugaburu for more than a week. According to the The New York Times, jurors reported struggling at times to remain impartial in the case which elicited a lot of emotion. The jury further organized the case details and created a timeline on a white board in the jury room. The jurors even debated the definition of “reasonable doubt” and requested the judge to re-read the jury instructions providing the definition. The case was very stressful for the jury, with one juror noting some of her fellow jurors fainted, became dizzy, developed stomach problems, and experienced insomnia during the trial.
The case started in January 2016 when 2 boys in Mr. Mugaburu’s care reported he allegedly had made inappropriate comments to them. Those reports prompted Mr. Mugaburu’s arrest. Following his arrest, 6 more boys alleged Mr. Mugaburu had sexually abused them while they had been in his care. Mr. Mugaburu, who didn’t testify at the trial, faced between 25 years to life in prison as charged.
The jury panel had been split 10-2 until all finally agreed there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Mugaburu. As reported by CBS News New York, one juror explained the verdict resulted from “[l]ack of information. Not enough to work with. You hear something like this and the numbers were overwhelming so you automatically think one way, but then the judge tells you what your job is. It puts everything into perspective.”
A lengthy report by the Suffolk County District Attorney concluded systemic failures allowed Mr. Mugaburu to take in more than 100 children into his home over 20 years. The report further noted Mr. Mugaburu had been subjected to 18 child abuse investigations. None of those investigations led to criminal charges, however, until his arrest in January 2016.
Mr. Mates disagreed with the findings in the District Attorney’s report. There never was any reason for the agencies to fail to uncover abuse because, he said, it never happened. Mates also said that at least some of the accusers were financially motivated for Mr. Mugaburu to be convicted because they have pending civil lawsuits seeking large monetary damages against an agency that placed them in his home. In the end, Prosecutors called it a difficult case and were deflated by the unexpected total defense verdict.
This case highlights two important points. First, it’s important for jurors to set aside their personal views and decide cases by applying the law as instructed by the judge to the facts as they find them. The jurors in this case did exactly that, as reflected by their focusing on the definition of “reasonable doubt” and by their following the judge’s instructions, and not their personal biases or emotions, throughout the case.
The second valuable lesson from this case is the importance of your criminal defense lawyer in demonstrating reasonable doubt in your case. If you have a sexual battery, child abuse case or any other serious case for that matter, you should talk with a Jacksonville criminal attorney about how they can poke holes in the State’s case by demonstrating reasonable doubt in your particular case.