Basalt man admits guilt in sex-abuse case
The Aspen Times
A Basalt man who has been held in custody for more than 10 months on child sex-abuse charges pleaded guilty to three felonies in Pitkin County District Court on Monday.
Felix Santana-Penaloza, 51, pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a child and two counts of attempted sexual assault of a child through a plea arrangement with the District Attorney’s Office. Sentencing was set for Aug. 4. His two female victims were between the ages of 7 and 13 at the time of the incidents, according to court documents.
Santana-Penaloza, through a court interpreter, said he was pleading guilty because it seemed he had no other options. Judge Gail Nichols reminded him that he had a right to a jury trial, but he went ahead with the pleas.
Nichols asked if he believed he had no other options because of strong evidence against him.
“I am here to comply with justice,” he said. “I am here to pay for my crimes. … I want to resolve this.”
During the phase of the arraignment in which the judge asks questions to determine whether the defendant is pleading guilty with a clear mind and without pressure, Santana-Penaloza said yes. He also noted that he only had a second-grade education.
Santana-Penaloza was arrested by Aspen police on July 19 in Basalt and has since been held in the Pitkin County Jail under $500,000 bond. Authorities believed Santana-Penaloza was a flight risk because he had quit his job and told his supervisor that he was going to California and then Mexico. Santana-Penaloza also had withdrawn all of his money from a bank account, according to a detective’s affidavit.
The acts were said to have occurred in Pitkin County and Eagle County. Before the guilty pleas, Santana-Penaloza faced felony charges of sexual assault on a child from someone in a position of trust.
The District Attorney’s Office has recommended a prison sentence of eight to 12 years. Nichols does not have to accept it. She asked Santana-Penaloza if he understood that because of the plea arrangement, he was confessing guilt to something he didn’t do. Sexual exploitation of a child is considered a lesser offense than sexual assault on a child. He answered affirmatively.
During a December preliminary hearing, Assistant Police Chief Linda Consuegra testified that she got a confession out of Santana-Penaloza at the Basalt Police Station on July 19. Both she and Detective Walter Chi questioned him that day.
“He let us know how much he was struggling,” Consuegra said. “He said … he did not know what he had done when he touched them.”
During that hearing, prosecutor Andrea Bryan said it was clear that Santana-Penaloza committed the acts for purposes of “sexual gratification, arousal or abuse.”
“The defendant himself acknowledged that what he was doing was wrong by instructing the girls not to tell anyone,” she said.
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A social media tip last week led police to two apparently right-leaning teenage boys who allegedly stole at least one political sign, and likely more, from Basalt-area yards recently.