Lawyer: Man accused of holding girl is a ‘good guy’

A man accused of forcing a 12-year-old girl to live in his parents’ Daly City basement for 18 months while he beat and molested her pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that could send him to prison for life.

John France Gonzales, 23, is facing 163 felony counts, including 40 counts of child molestation, 68 counts of lewd act with a minor with a 10-year age difference, and multiple counts of sodomy, unlawful sexual intercourse and digital penetration.

San Mateo Superior Court Judge Clifford Cretan set Gonzales’ trial for July 28. Gonzales, pony-tailed and dressed in a red jail uniform, spoke only to say, “Yes, sir” when Cretan asked if he would be willing to waive his right to a speedy trial.

Outside of court, Gonzales’ attorney Paul DeMeester said he was hoping to resolve the matter before it went to trial. He described Gonzales as “a good guy” who made the mistake of having a relationship with an underage girl.

“This is his one major goof in life, so to speak,” DeMeester said. He added that the girl was not held prisoner and media accounts of the alleged crime have been misleading.

“It almost sounded like a sex-slave thing,” he said. “The actual facts of the case are not so sexy.”

Gonzales, a former pharmacy technician, was arrested Nov. 13, 2006, after police say the girl escaped and came home to her parents, who had assumed she ran away. Prosecutors say Gonzales was having a relationship with one of the girl’s relatives when the two met.

On Thursday, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe dismissed DeMeester’s claims that the girl consented to the relationship.

“When you’re under 13 there’s no such thing as consent,” Wagstaffe said. “If a 20-year-old has sex with a 12-year-old, even if she wanted the relationship, it’s child molest. A child doesn’t have the ability to give knowing consent.”

The girl is cooperating with prosecutors and will testify against Gonzales if the case goes to trial, Wagstaffe said. He added that Gonzales’ parents, both pharmacists, were unaware that the victim was living in their basement for a year and a half.

tbarak@examiner.com

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