After 45 minutes of jury deliberation, two Gainesville residents received life sentences Thursday while two children continue rebuilding their childhood.
Maria Mercedes Vasquez-Quiroz and Digno de Jesus Mejia were sentenced by Superior Court Judge Jason Deal Thursday after a jury returned with a guilty verdict on all counts in the child sex trafficking case of a 4-year-old girl. A 2-year-old boy also was involved.
“There really is not a sentence that we think is enough,” Assistant District Attorney Shiv Sachdeva said as he advocated for maximum sentencing.
The case involved two full days of testimony from a slew of witnesses. The jury entered deliberation at 1:40 p.m. Thursday and returned a verdict around 2:25 p.m.
“The only thing I want to say is I want to apologize for everything that has happened, and I want to ask for forgiveness for all of this,” Mejia said through interpreter Guillermo Arenas.
Mejia’s family members in the courtroom declined to comment at the sentencing, and Vasquez-Quiroz also elected not to speak.
The children’s adoptive mother offered hope.
“We walk in faith with my husband that we will provide for (the children) to the point that one day they can forgive all those that hurt them and stole their innocence,” she said during sentencing.
The Times is not naming the adoptive parents in order to protect the victims’ identities.
Vasquez-Quiroz and Mejia were charged with rape, child molestation, first-degree child cruelty, enticing a child for indecent purposes and trafficking a person for sexual servitude. Vasquez-Quiroz also was charged with aggravated child molestation and aggravated sodomy.
“We presented our position, and the jury made the decision based on their findings of the evidence and law,” Mejia’s attorney Lee Parks said. “As I have for 31 years, I respect the jury’s decision.”
Deal considered the speeches and charges, particularly the severity of the offenses, before making his decision on sentencing.
“While murder deals with the death of the physical body, offenses against children often kill their spirit,” Deal said.
A third co-defendant, Junior Alexander Delcid-Leon, pleaded guilty the week prior to trial.
In the February 2014 indictment of all three, Delcid-Leon was charged with child molestation, aggravated child molestation, first-degree child cruelty, aggravated sodomy and rape.
The deal taken last week resulted in a life sentence with 25 years to be served in confinement, Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said Thursday.
“I heard your apology, and I have to tell you it’s very much like I told Mr. Delcid when he entered his plea last week: It’s too little too late,” Deal said to Mejia. “Those are things you should have thought of before you engaged in this criminal activity and … before you went through this proceeding.”
Mejia’s sentence was for life plus 70 years, with life plus 50 years to be served in confinement.
Following Mejia’s sentencing, Deal turned to speak to Vasquez-Quiroz.
“I don’t think there’s anyone that would say that you were less culpable, because your actions violate not only the laws of the state of Georgia but the laws of nature,” he said.
Vasquez-Quiroz’s sentence was for life plus 90 years, with 90 years to be served in confinement.
“This jury got to see and hear a lot about some of the horrors that go on in our community … But I think I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that we also got to see some heroes,” Deal said.
Deal said the heroes included babysitter Maria Isabel Mojica Sanchez, the girl’s Court-Appointed Special Advocate Alina Basha and her Division of Family and Children Services caseworker Danielle Finnemore.
“I believe that the only hero here is (the girl),” Basha said. “She brought this to the front and she continued bringing it to the front.”
The girl is now 7 and was adopted along with a now 4-year-old boy. Basha said the adoption is a success in terms of providing the safety, security and protection that a child needs.
“That chance of her having that now is what CASA is all about, just to find the well-being and the permanency for the child,” Basha said. “I just wish that every single child that is right now in the same circumstances that (the girl) was in would have the same outcome — that it would come to light and the perpetrators would be prosecuted.”
Previous coverage of the trial: