An Orange County judge Thursday rejected a bid by prosecutors to call former kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour as an expert witness in the trial of a man accused of kidnapping his former live-in girlfriend's teenage daughter in Santa Ana and sexually assaulting her over 10 years.
Prosecutors said they wanted to put Smart on the stand in the trial of Isidro Medrano Garcia, saying there were similarities between her abduction and that of the alleged victim in Garcia's case. They claimed that like Smart, the victim in Garcia's case didn't take advantage of multiple opportunities to escape because she was being manipulated by her captor. But Judge Michael Leversen, after hearing testimony from Smart outside the jury's presence, said he did not find enough evidence for Smart to be called as an expert in this particular case.
Leversen noted Smart "survived a horrific experience," and found her to be an "honest, credible witness."
"However, she has not provided sufficient foundation to qualify as an expert in this case," Leversen said. Senior Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky argued that the "crux of this case" is "whether (the victim) was kidnapped," and whether the jury believes she was forced to live with her alleged captor.
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"The defense will be attacking (the victim's) credibility," Bokosky said. Bokosky likened it to a police officer testifying from his personal experience with drug dealers in a drug-related criminal trial.
Garcia's attorney, Seth Bank, argued Smart's fear of escape was far more understandable than the victim in his client's case. Smart testified that her captors consistently threatened to kill her and her family if she tried to get away.
"Her behavior was completely reasonable," Bank said of her reluctance to seek help. Bank said it would be more appropriate for a psychiatric expert to testify in the case and that most of Smart's knowledge of other kidnap victims' experiences is "just anecdotal stuff."
Smart was kidnapped from her family's home in Salt Lake City on June 5, 2002, at age 14. Her disappearance made national headlines, and police ultimately rescued her nine months later. Smart said she was sexually assaulted on a daily basis while being held captive and threatened if she tried to escape.
Her story became the subject of a made-for-TV movie and she co-wrote a book about her experiences that she said enriched her by about $300,000. Smart said her experience was much like the victim's in Garcia's case.
"She was being manipulated and held hostage by verbal chains as opposed to physical chains," Smart testified. The threat of deportation and then later the fear of losing custody of her child were the prime discouragement from seeking escape, Smart testified. Garcia, 42, of Bell Gardens, is charged with forcible rape, kidnapping to commit a sex offense and three counts of lewd acts on a minor.
Garcia's alleged victim, then 15, was reported missing in August 2004 by her mother, who suspected Garcia, her one-time live-in boyfriend, of abducting her daughter, police said.
The mother also suspected at that time that Garcia had been sexually abusing the teen for about two months, according to investigators. Garcia met the girl in February 2004 and would buy her gifts and take her side when the teen quarreled with her mother, according to prosecutors. Garcia is accused of molesting and kissing the girl between June and August of 2004, according to prosecutors. He sexually assaulted the girl three different times and raped her once, prosecutors allege.
Garcia is accused of forcing his captive into marriage in 2007 and had a child with her in 2012. His attorney has contended that the alleged victim had multiple chances to leave the defendant over the course of 10 years and go to authorities, but failed to do so. The alleged victim contacted her sister through Facebook on her birthday in April of 2104, marking the first time her family had heard from her in years. A domestic dispute involving her and Garcia in Bell Gardens led to the suspect's arrest, police said.