Jury acquits Mormon branch president of sex abuse
Sandy man says he's grateful for justice; attorney says it was his accusers who attacked him
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A Sandy man accused of sexually abusing a mother and her daughter and biting the woman's son in a sexual assault in their home was acquitted of all charges Friday by a jury.
Efrey Antonio Guzman, 48, who was branch president of an LDS Spanish-speaking branch in Midvale and was released from his church position after the allegations were made, was found not guilty of all four counts of aggravated sexual assault, aggravated burglary, sex abuse of a child and forcible sexual abuse.
"I'm really grateful," Guzman said after the trial. "Great judicial system. I believe in it."
Outside the courtroom, the GPS ankle monitor that he had been required to wear while the trial was pending was cut off.
The jury reached its decision after 3 ½ hours of deliberation. Guzman's attorney, Bel-Ami Jean de Montreux, believed the fact it took the jury so little time to reach a decision sends a strong message about his client's innocence.
"This is like being freed from an indictment," he said. "He could not go to church, he could not participate, he could not take communion. Now his good name has been cleared."
In 2012, a 13-year-old girl told police that Guzman knocked on her door when she and her older brother were home alone. When he learned that the brother was in the shower, "the defendant suddenly grabbed her, hugged her tightly and would not let her go," police and prosecutors alleged in 3rd District Court charging documents.
The teen claimed Guzman kissed her and grabbed her buttocks. Guzman was also accused of later returning to the home and assaulting the girl's mother and brother when the mother wouldn't let him see her daughter.
Guzman was president of the Union Park 9th Branch in Midvale.
Jean de Montreux, however, said it was the mother who actually pulled Guzman into her house after he extended his hand for a shake, and he was then attacked.
"He went down cold — barely can move. The police found him in a daze. And then the lady bit him all over his body. What was critical in this case was that lady did not have one wound on her. She had no injury at all," he said.
Guzman's attorney described the bite marks on his client's body as being similar to bullet holes, and said he was attacked "like a pit bull."
"We were very, very grateful the jury saw the truth," he said.
Because of the allegations, Guzman lost his job and nearly everything else.
"He has no life, nothing," Jean de Montreux said. "This is a man who needs to rebuild his life. If I could advise him, I would advise him to change his name because that name has been soiled."
Guzman said he planned to return to church on Sunday for the first time in two years.
"I feel really bad. It's sad this kind of thing happened. Now I can come back," he said.
Some in his branch, like Monica Thorlakson, said they were always confident the allegations were false.
"There is justice in this country. We know our president is innocent. We saw day by day what he went through. And we knew that all the accusations were not true," she said.
Salt Lake County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeff Hall said prosecutors respect the jury's verdict.
"In this case specifically, it (needed) to go through the criminal justice system. We present our evidence, the defense has an opportunity to challenge that evidence and respond as they see fit. A jury weighs the evidence and applies the law as instructed by the judge," he said. "We have confidence in the system and respect the role of the jury."
Neither Guzman nor his attorney could explain why the girl and her family made the allegations against him. But his attorney said he was confident in his client's innocence, which is why he took the case pro bono and why others agreed to help without pay.
Contributing: Peter Samore
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