A man accused of sexually assaulting his girlfriend's grade-school-aged daughter over several years in Coachella must stand trial on nearly a dozen felony charges, a judge ruled Thursday.
Alfonso Gonzalez Meraz, 32, was arrested on Oct. 4, 2019, stemming from an investigation that began earlier that year into sex crimes that allegedly occurred between 2009 and 2015, starting when the alleged victim was between 7 and 8 years old.
During a preliminary hearing at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dale R. Wells ruled prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to proceed to the trial in the case.
Wells kept the defendant's bail at $6 million and scheduled a post-preliminary hearing arraignment for Oct. 1.
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Meraz is charged with four counts of engaging in sexual intercourse or sodomy of a child under 10 years old and two counts of engaging in oral copulation or sexual penetration of a child under 10 years old.
The defendant is additionally charged with one count of kidnapping to commit rape and four counts of lewd acts on a child under 14 years old.
Riverside County sheriff's Investigator Claudia Herrera testified Thursday that the victim reported being molested by the defendant within months of him moving into her mother's Coachella home in the summer 2009.
The victim reported the alleged attacks began as groping before morphing into instances of rape, Herrera said.
At one point, Meraz allegedly raped the young girl while her mother, a “heavy sleeper,” slept beside them, the investigator alleged.
The victim allegedly reported to her mother an early instance of groping, but her mother took no action, dissuading the victim from reporting other acts of sexual assault, according to Herrera.
“She was upset mom didn't question any further,” the investigator said.
The crimes came to light in early 2019 when the victim was in high school, about four years after the defendant moved out of the house in 2015, which is when the alleged abuse finally stopped.
Meraz, who remains in custody at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning, has no documented felony convictions in Riverside County.