In September and October 2003, 26-year-old Owen Cesar was charged with two separate instances of child sex abuse in Rieffton, Pennsylvania. He was accused of sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend’s two nieces, ages 8 and 9, from April 2000 to February 2001. His ex-girlfriend also accused him of sexually assaulting their five-year-old daughter in August 2003.
In 2004, Cesar went on trial in Berks County Court of Common Pleas on charges of assaulting the 8 and 9-year-old girls. The girls, nieces of Ann Borrilez, Cesar’s ex-girlfriend, testified that they came to Cesar’s home after school and remained there until after 11 p.m., when their mother finished work and picked them up. Both testified that Cesar assaulted them almost daily. They testified that there were no pets in the home.
Cesar testified and denied that he assaulted the girls. He said that his home had been destroyed by fire on February 14, 2000 and that beginning in November 2000 through 2002, he had worked the second shift at a human resources firm and was not around the children at all. Cesar’s defense attorney submitted a newspaper article about the fire at the home.
On April 2, 2004, the trial judge, who heard the case without a jury, convicted Cesar of rape and sentenced him to 16 to 37 years in prison.
In January 2005 Cesar went on trial before a jury on the charge of raping his five-year-old daughter. The girl testified that she awoke during the night and was scared by the dark, so she crawled into bed with Cesar. She said that he had anally raped her. The girl’s mother, Cesar’s ex-girlfriend, Ann Borrilez, testified that the girl told her she had been assaulted a few days after the incident. At that time, Borrilez and Cesar were engaged in a bitter custody battle over the girl.
Cesar denied the assault took place and there was no medical evidence showing the girl had been assaulted. On January 13, 2005, Cesar was convicted by the jury and sentenced to one to five years in prison, to be followed by 15 years of probation and designation as a convicted sex offender.
Later that year, a post-conviction petition for a new trial was filed in the case involving the two nieces of Cesar’s girlfriend. The petition alleged that Cesar’s attorney had failed to discover and present evidence of his innocence.
At a hearing, a police investigator testified that she happened to be at Cesar’s home when a pet dog knocked over a candle, igniting a blaze that severely damaged the home. The investigator testified that she helped Cesar carry belongings from the home until they were forced to evacuate because the fire became too intense. An insurance adjuster testified that Cesar and his then-wife, Christy, were paid $25,000 for losses and were also paid for relocation and living expenses until August 30, 2000. A fire marshal testified that the property was uninhabitable. Cesar’s employer testified that Cesar worked from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. from November 2000 through 2002.
In August 2005, the trial judge vacated Cesar’s conviction based on his defense lawyer’s failure to provide an adequate legal defense and ordered a new trial. In 2009, Cesar went on trial a second time before a jury and presented the evidence about the fire, insurance claim and his employment schedule. He was acquitted on February 13, 2009.
By that time, the Pennsylvania Superior Court had upheld Cesar’s conviction for raping his 5-year-old daughter and a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial had been denied. At a hearing on the post-conviction petition, Cesar’s wife’s daughter by a different man, who had been 10 years old at the time of the alleged assault, testified that the 5-year-old slept in the same bed with her.
The older girl, who was by then 15 years old, testified that they slept on the top bunk of a set of bunk beds and that if the five-year-old had gotten up, she would have awakened because the bed was not sturdy and wobbled considerably when anyone moved around on it. The older girl said that Cesar slept in a recliner on the first floor.
In March 2010, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the denial of the post-conviction petition and vacated Cesar’s conviction for the assault on his daughter. The court ruled that the testimony of the older girl was credible evidence that the assault had not occurred. On January 7, 2011, the Berks County District dismissed the case. Cesar was released and his designation as a convicted sex offender was expunged.
– Maurice Possley