Child molestation victim sues abuser, wins

Relates to:
Date: 2008-04-23

Child molestation victim sues abuser, wins

By Robyn Moormeister
A Nevada County judge awarded the eldest daughter of convicted child molester Luis Ponce $1.2 million in damages after her mother testified Ponce molested her, the victim and her attorney said Tuesday.

"This was really just about taking a stand and saying this is not OK, and I'm not just going to take it," said the victim, Keri Ponce. "That was empowering."

The 26-year-old was one of several children molested by Ponce, who taped the activity himself. The woman was between the ages of 6 months and 6 years old at the time of the filmed abuse, said her Nevada City attorney, Yolanda Bachtell.

Ponce was convicted in May 2007 of 16 counts of molestation for abusing two girls under the age of 3. In addition, Ponce had taped himself molesting his eldest daughter at least two decades ago - footage that was not included in the criminal case.

"(Keri Ponce) was a victim of his abuse right along with the other kids," Bachtell said. "The criminal case against (Luis Ponce) was based on the younger kids and it was a slam-dunk case, so there was no need to throw Keri's abuse into it."

Ponce was sentenced to 63 years to life in prison for molesting the other girls.

When Keri Ponce learned her father had told her mother he didn't think what he did to her was wrong, she decided to sue.

"A civil suit was my only option as far as getting any validation and power back," Keri Ponce said.

Keri Ponce's mother, Ponce's first wife, viewed the footage of Ponce molesting her daughter and testified against him earlier this month, Bachtell said.

In the video footage, Keri Ponce appeared to be drugged during the abuse, according to the lawsuit.

"Because of the heinousness of this conduct, we asked for punitive damages and the rest were special damages for her out-of-pocket expenses, lost work and future needs," Bachtell said. "(Keri Ponce) is going to be in therapy for the rest of her life."

Nevada County Judge Thomas Anderson ruled in Keri Ponce's favor earlier this month.

Keri Ponce attends a California university and will receive a master's degree in social work in about four more weeks, she said.

She works with troubled teens and needs to attend therapy herself to deal with the feelings about her own past, sometimes stirred up by her work with the teens, Bachtell said.

Keri Ponce said she hopes to open her own facility for counseling child victims of abuse, she said.

However, because of Ponce's divorce from his second wife, who needs child support for their six foster children, Keri Ponce may not see any of the money she was awarded.

"It's a likely scenario is that, because of the divorce from his second wife, they're going to split community property, and his share is earmarked to pay for the child support for the six kids," Bachtell said. "Whether or not (Keri Ponce) is entitled to earmarked funds, we're not sure at this point."

In Ponce's response to the civil suit, he wrote he did not have any assets, according to court records.

"I don't think we'll be able to collect," Bachtell said. "This was really about closure."

Keri Ponce agreed.

"I just want other victims to know that if it happens to them, they can do something about it," she said. "People will listen to you."

To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail or call 477-4236.


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