Howard man sentenced in molestation case

28-year-old gets 33 years in abuse of three children

August 10, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 28-year-old illegal immigrant convicted of molesting three young children at an apartment in Savage was sentenced yesterday to 33 years in prison.

Without comment and after an emotional plea from the mother of one of the children, Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley imposed a series of consecutive terms on Savage resident Gerardo Cardenas for various sexual offenses committed against two girls, ages 7 and 8, and a boy, 9.

The abuse occurred over a two-year period and ended when the 8-year-old girl confided in the boy, leading the boy to break his silence last summer, according to testimony at Cardenas' trial in June.

But before the 8-year-old revealed the abuse, changes in her behavior -- including bed-wetting, nightmares and "zoning out" at school -- led her mother to seek doctors and medical tests for the girl, her mother testified yesterday.

"I've punished my daughter. I've taken things away from her," the mother said. "She wet the bed. She went from being this perfect child to this child you would not recognize."

The Sun is not naming the children or their mothers to protect their identities.

The mother said the abuse has made her uneasy about allowing any men around her daughter and has robbed the girl of a "regular childhood."

"No matter how long he stays in jail, I'll never be able to change that," the mother said. "He took so many things away."

Cardenas abused the three children when he watched them while the mother of the 7-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy -- who also baby-sat the 8-year-old girl -- napped or did housework, according to testimony.

In June, a Howard County jury found Cardenas guilty of 28 of 33 charges in the cases. He was found not guilty of a series of charges involving a fourth child, a 5-year-old girl.

Yesterday, Cardenas' lawyer, Robert Cole Jr., said his client, who is from Mexico, has no formal education and had a clean record in the United States.

A memo to the court from Assistant State's Attorney Amy Hott Somerville alleges that Cardenas was once a suspect in a rape and homicide in Mexico but notes that an arrest warrant in the case has been "marked inactive," according to the U.S. Department of Defense and Interpol.

Cole asked Dudley to consider a 13-year sentence.

Although the convictions meant Cardenas could have been sentenced to more than 100 years in prison, state guidelines recommend a sentence of between three months and 13 years for the offenses.

"Being 28 years of age, it would give him an opportunity for rehabilitation," Cole said.

And through a court-appointed Spanish interpreter, Cardenas asked Dudley for "compassion."

But Hott Somerville, who argued for a sentence above the guidelines, said Cardenas "violated" the children's trust with "systematic and secretive abuse."

"This was an awful thing that happened to all of them," she said.

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