A Coachella woman was found guilty today of molesting an 18-month-old boy, while a molestation trial will continue Friday for one of the boy's relatives -- a Desert Hot Springs man.
Michael James Flaherty, 35, and Cynthia Fuentes, 25, were arrested in August 2017. They are both charged with three counts of committing lewd acts on a child under 14 years old using force, two counts of committing sex acts on a child under 10 years old and one count of using a minor for obscene matter.
An Indio jury on Wednesday convicted Fuentes of all charges and she is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 28.
During opening statements at the Larson Justice Center, Deputy District Attorney Anne-Marie Lofthouse separately showed two panels of jurors, one for each defendant, an image of the child while asserting the two defendants used him for sexual pleasure knowing he was defenseless.
Lofthouse said Flaherty "s
erved (the victim) up on a silver platter" to women for gratification, and Fuentesknew that the child could do nothing about it."
Lofthouse also said the two defendants tried to destroy evidence after they believed they were going to be reported to authorities by a woman Flaherty had contacted, proving they knew their actions were wrong.
Flaherty's attorney, Melanie Roe, and Fuentes' attorney, Jessica DeSalva, argued that prosecutors do not have sufficient evidence to prove all the charges.
"Thoughts are not crimes, no matter how deviant,'' Roe said, adding that although the prosecution has some video evidence, the use of text messages is insufficient because it only shows that Flaherty thought about committing a
DeSalva took a similar stance, reminding jurors that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her client committed the alleged crimes.
The two panels of jurors were presented with opening statements separately. On Oct. 21, Flaherty pleaded guilty to a number of charges related to lewd acts that he alone was charged with, including two felony counts of persuading a lewd act with a child and one felony count each of possessing matter of a minor engaging in a sex act, willful child cruelty and aiding a felon in escaping arrest.
He also pleaded guilty to a felony charge of using a minor for obscene matter.
He will be sentenced on those charges after his trial on the remaining counts.
During a preliminary hearing in January, Desert Hot Springs Police Detective Christopher Tooth said a woman Flaherty met on a dating app initially reported the alleged abuse to Child Protective Services, then to police.
The woman said Flaherty tried to convince her to take part in molesting the boy, and provided photographs and videos purporting to show several acts of molestation during several of their conversations.
The investigation eventually expanded to include Fuentes, who allegedly admitted in text messages to participating in the abuse.
According to Lofthouse, both Flaherty and Fuentes were captured on camera engaging in sex acts on the child.
At the time of his arrest, Flaherty was also the subject of a child pornography investigation initiated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which forwarded the case to investigators with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to Lofthouse. Federal investigators eventually teamed with Desert Hot Springs police in the case.
Flaherty has prior felony convictions for burglary and vehicle theft. He also has an unresolved felony forcible rape case.
Fuentes has no documented felony convictions in Riverside County.
Both defendants remain behind bars.