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Defense disputes charges in Rohnert Park child torture, rape case



Kidnapping charges should be dismissed against a Rohnert Park couple because they legally adopted and never concealed three children believed to have been tortured for years, the couple’s defense attorneys say.

The defense motions for dismissal were filed June 13 by the attorneys of Jose and Gina Centeno, who are expected to stand trial on charges of kidnapping, torture, and the sexual abuse of their former foster children.

The motions are expected to be addressed during a hearing on Tuesday.

Each defendant is charged with three counts of kidnapping for ransom and three counts of torture. Jose Centeno also is charged with nine additional counts related to rape and sex abuse.

They have pleaded not guilty to the allegations, which led to their arrests in August 2020. Their preliminary hearing concluded in February when Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Troye Shaffer ordered them to stand trial.

Rachel McAllister and Evan Zelig, respective attorneys for Jose and Gina Centeno, argued in their motions that testimony and evidence didn’t validate charges against their clients.

“Gina Centeno is the poster child for bad parenting,” Zelig wrote in his argument. “But her conduct falls more appropriately under the general child abuse statutes. To take Gina Centeno to trial for these particular charges would be a grave injustice.”

The Centenos are accused of adopting two girls and a boy in 2007 for financial gain via California’s adoption assistance program. The girls were 3 and 4 and the boy was 2.

Prosecutors say the children were concealed from the public and subjected to years of torture in their home on Camino Coronado in Rohnert Park. The torture the children are believed to have endured included being chained to their bed, barely fed and beaten for minor infractions, according to prosecutors.

The older girl disappeared in 2012 and would now be about 21 years old.

The younger girl, identified in court as Jane Doe 1, is now 19 years old. She testified during the preliminary hearing that Jose Centeno raped and sodomized her when she was 13.

Jane Doe 1 testified she and her brother, who was identified only as, John Doe, now 18, were rescued after Jose Centeno brought them to Mexico and they met a U.S. citizen who they believe alerted authorities.

Citing the legal adoption and the children’s brief time at John Reed Elementary School in Rohnert Park, the defense attorneys argue the children were not concealed from the public.

Zelig added that the torture charges are inappropriate because testimony showed that his client’s behavior may have only involved disciplining the children for misbehavior.

“None of the children ever described Gina as seeming to enjoy or take pleasure from her treatment of the children,” Zelig wrote. “And there was never a hint that Gina’s actions were rooted in her deriving sexual pleasure from her actions.”

Regarding Jose Centeno’s rape and sodomy charges, McCallister argued against special allegations that stated a child was kidnapped and tied or bound.

“Jane Doe 1 testified that she left her bedroom and followed Jose into the next room,” McCallister wrote. “She was not tied or bound; there was no testimony that she was chained or otherwise restrained.”

McCallister contended that Jane Doe 1 was inconsistent in her testimony about the sexual abuse she allegedly experienced.

Inconsistencies, the attorney wrote, were Jane Doe 1’s age at the time of one incident and her description of her Jose Centeno’s movements during another encounter.

It wasn’t clear if those charges pertained to one or multiple incidents.

A Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson declined Friday to comment on the defense requests to dismiss the charges.

In an evidentiary document filed Oct. 11, 2022, Deputy District Attorney Ashley Hendon wrote there are various qualifications for the kidnapping charge, including concealing someone or holding them without consent without any significant movement.

“Even though the victims were in the house they were supposed to be at, they were certainly confined very strictly to that house,” Hendon wrote. “They were concealed from the world and from other people in the house. They were held by being locked in a room and Jane Doe 1 and John Doe were further detained by being chained to their beds.”

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi

2023 Jun 18