PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - “Listen to her words. She told you what happened.”
That’s how prosecutors ended closing arguments Wednesday morning in the trial of former school bus driver Sergio Sandoval. By 10 a.m., the jury had left the Jackson County courtroom to determine the fate of the 69-year-old man. Within five hours, Sandoval was found guilty of sexual battery and two counts of touching a child.
Judge Kathy King sentenced Sandoval to 15 years and $1,500 fine for each count of molestation and 30 years and a $2,500 fine for sexual battery to serve concurrently. Sandoval showed no reaction when the jury of 10 women and two men delivered the verdict.
“In all of my years of prosecuting child sexual assault cases, I have never encountered a predator so brazen or bold," said District Attorney Angel Myers McIlrath. "This defendant sexually assaulted an 8-year-old girl all while driving a school bus full of children around Ocean Springs. He wasn’t counting on his victim being brave enough to stand up to him at trial. Because of Judge Jackson’s 30-year day-for-day sentence, this defendant will never be free to hurt another child.”
For two days, the jury heard testimony from the state that Sandoval had inappropriately touched an 8-year-old girl at least four times in 2014. The alleged abuse happened on the school bus with other children present, said witnesses who took the stand.
The girl said Sandoval would call her to the front of the bus, where he would give her candy and put his arm around her back to unzip her pants. The girl said “he would touch me.” When District Attorney Angel McIlrath asked her where, she answered “in my private parts.”
The girl said sometimes Sandoval would touch her panties and rub her, but on October 6, he touched her inside her underwear. When asked if he touched her inside her body, she answered, “yes.”
The victim testified the touching happened on multiple occasions.
The girl told her parents and a report was filed with Ocean Springs Police Department. Her dad took the stand earlier this week and recounted what his daughter told him and the actions that were taken after.
On Monday, Justin Grafton, the chief investigator for the District Attorney’s office, showed the jury several videos of bus trips, where it appears that Sandoval called the victim to the front of the bus multiple times. Neither Sandoval nor the victim can be seen when she is at the front of the bus, which Grafton explained meant she was standing right next to him. Grafton said Sandoval would give the victim candy on these visits to the front.
On another day, when a substitute driver drove the bus, the victim wasn’t called to the front of the bus at all.
The girl testified that when other children would come to the front of the bus while he was touching her, Sandoval would pull her next to him so no one could see what he was doing.
“One of the most important roles we have in the Office of the District Attorney is to protect children," said Assistant District Attorney Justin Lovorn. "Children in our community are safer because of the justice delivered today. I’d like to thank the Ocean Springs School District for their continued assistance and cooperation during the investigation and prosecution of this case.”
Sandoval faced four counts of molesting a child. He was acquitted on charges from Sept. 15-19 and Sept. 22-26.
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