A judge set bonds totaling $147,500 for a man arrested Wednesday morning and charged with molesting three children.
Feliciano Esparza, 33, molested girls ages 7, 11 and 14, multiple times over one year, according to the Manatee Sheriff’s Office.
Esparza is charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious behavior and one count lewd and lascivious exhibition, according to his arrest report.
His girlfriend, Sonya Slinkard, 33, knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it from recurring, deputies reported. She also tried to deter law enforcement, deputies reported, and was charged with child abuse.
Esparza and Slinkard appeared Wednesday for a first appearance hearing.
Assistant State Attorney Charles Near recommended Esparza be held without bond since three charges against him are punishable by life in prison.
Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts argued the law did not support holding Esparza without bond because of a lack of independent evidence.
“I don’t think that there is that component that the proof is great,” Roberts said.
Despite Roberts telling him to remain quiet, Esparza addressed Judge Scott Brownell.
“I just wanted to say I wasn’t going to run because, if I was, I would have run a year ago,” Esparza said.
Roberts argued probable cause for the charge of child abuse against Slinkard.
“She called (the children) liars,” Roberts said. “According to the PCA, she didn’t observe any abuse.”
Brownell found probable cause for the charge and ordered Slinkard placed on supervised release with no contact with the children.
Slinkard’s family was in the courtroom.
The arrest reports detail some of what led to the arrests.
The children initially disclosed the abuse to Slinkard, but all were called liars, according to an arrest report. One girl then disclosed the abuse to her grandmother, who called to question Slinkard.
Slinkard then told one of the children “to call her grandmother and tell her it ‘was a dream and it didn’t happen,'” according to reports.
A roommate of the defendants told investigators Slinkard gave her a few days to get out of the house because they were moving but would not say where.
After learning investigators had spoken with the children, the couple accused the roommate of reporting the abuse to authorities and packed their belongings into two cars.
Deputies found Feliciano and Slinkard at his mother’s home.
In an interview following her arrest, Slinkard said the allegations came up about a year ago. After discussions with family and claiming the children’s stories didn’t make sense, she did nothing to keep the children from Esparza, according to reports.
“They went on with their lives and everything seemed normal,” one arrest report indicated.
Abuse allegations resurfaced when a family member reported seeing Esparza touch himself in the girl’s rooms while they were sleeping, according to the report.
Esparza’s arrest history includes charges of failing to pay child support and failing to register as a convicted felon in Manatee County.
Esparza and Slinkard will be arraigned at 9 a.m. Sept. 19.