A 31-year-old former San Antonio resident pleaded guilty in mid-trial to the sexual assault of a 13-year-old Marion girl Tuesday — and today faces the possibility of going to prison for the rest of his life.
Romualdo Paz stood indicted on two charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child in connection with incidents in late 2000 and early 2001 and one count of aggravated kidnapping for taking her to Mexico for three months in early 2001.
If proved in the trial being conducted before 274th Judicial District Judge Gary Steel, all three allegations were first-degree felonies punishable by five to 99 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Tuesday afternoon, 25th Judicial District Attorney Heather Hollub said Paz pleaded guilty in the middle of the prosecution being waged by Assistant District Attorney Tom Mitchell.
This morning, jurors will hear evidence in the punishment phase of the trial before deciding Paz’s fate.
He faces between five and 99 years in state prison on a single sexual assault charge. The second count and the kiddnapping allegations were dismissed.
Mitchell, who was seconded by Assistant District Attorney Carrie Moy, opened the trial with his statement telling jurors what the prosecution would prove.
“The facts are going to show this case is about a predator; this case is about innocence; this case is about a naive girl,” Mitchell said.
Paz worked for a San Antonio cleaning company with the victim’s mother, Mitchell told jurors. When she wasn’t in school, the victim frequently went to work with her mother, Mitchell said.
She met Paz, and their relationship developed over the fall of 2000 — largely behind the backs of the parents, Mitchell said. The suspect won the confidence of the victim’s mother, and even was invited to the family home in Marion to help string up Christmas lights that year.
What the parents did not know, Mitchell said, was Paz, then about 22 years old, was visiting their daughter at night when they were not aware.
In December, they had sex in the victim’s mother’s car, and the relationship continued through that month and into January, when Mitchell said the girl would skip school to have sex with Paz.
“The parents didn’t know about the relationship because it was hidden from them,” Mitchell told the jurors.
The girl believed she was in love with Paz, and in late January of 2001, they left for his family home in Mexico — in the car that belonged to her mom, Mitchell said.
“He’s a predator who took her away from her parents at age 13,” Mitchell said.
The victim’s father, who worked for the Boeing Corp. in San Antonio, regularly worked overtime and often didn’t get home until late at night, he testified Tuesday. When he got home at 11:30 p.m., he found his daughter not at home — and had no idea where she was.
Sheriff’s investigator Gary Wallace and the sheriff’s Criminal Investigation Division launched an effort in conjunction with the Marion Police Department in an attempt to locate the girl, Mitchell said.
In late April — she had been gone nearly three months — the father got a tip that his daughter might be with Paz in his mother’s home in Tampico, Mexico.
The father found her there and forced her to return to the United States against her will, Mitchell said.
“She wasn’t happy to see him,” Mitchell said. “She was in love, and they’d talked about getting married. She didn’t want to come home.”
After her arrival back in Texas, the girl’s parents had her examined, Mitchell said. She had lice, a foot fungus and was pregnant.
Paz was arrested in August, 2008, and was indicted in October.
Austin defense attorney Robert Caine reserved his opening statement, which he could have delivered at the beginning of the defense portion of the trial.