RICHMOND, Calif. — A 52-year-old California man has pleaded guilty to holding a female relative as a sex slave in his backyard shed for 14 years, beginning when she was barely a teenager, authorities said.
Raul Ochoa of Richmond, California, would spend the next 22 years in prison under a plea deal in which the victim won’t be compelled to testify at the sentencing hearing on February 11, authorities said.
Local media accounts are likening her case to Jaycee Dugard, also held captive in a California backyard structure. Dugard was held from age 11 to 29 and gave birth to two daughters, fathered by her captor, Phillip Garrido. He and wife Nancy were sentenced to long prison terms in 2011.
In the Richmond case, the victim escaped from captivity in 2012 with help from a relative, who brought her to police, Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus said in a letter to the city council, confirming a local newspaper account this week of the crime.
But authorities didn’t publicize the incident until this week, after the newspaper account was published, the chief told the city council.
“I want to make you aware of a horrific case (initially dealt with in the summer of 2012) involving long-term sexual abuse of a developmentally-disabled individual by a very close family member that took place in our city,” the chief wrote in a Thursday e-mail to the council.
“Just to clarify — we did not release any information up to this point about the case because the crime was perpetrated within the family by a very close family member,” Magnus wrote, putting the word “within” in italics.
“There was no reason to believe there were any non-family members who had been victimized by the suspect. In addition, this victim is very fragile and we did want to jeopardize her welfare or the case in any way,” the chief wrote.
The girl was taken captive in 1998 at age 13, Deputy District Attorney Ryan Wagner told CNN.
At the time, she was visiting Ochoa in his family’s home, according to CNN affiliate KGO and authorities.
“In that home, she was basically, through the use of emotional and psychological pressure as well as sexual abuse, forced to participate in horrific acts for an extended period of time,” Wagner said in a separate interview with KGO.
Ochoa’s wife and children, who resided in the house, also lived in fear of Ochoa, authorities told KGO.
Ochoa built a shed in his backyard where most of the sexual abuse occurred, but it has since been torn down, authorities told the news outlet.
A photograph of the shed, released by authorities, shows a box-spring covered with plastic and supported by a metal frame. One wall is decorated with a floral-print fabric, but another wall appears to be covered with white tarp. A wood column supporting the roof is next to the bed, as is a simple wooden table.
The girl wasn’t allowed to attend school, and as she became older, Ochoa taught her how to do landscaping work, an activity they shared, authorities told the affiliate.
In August 2012, the victim was then a 27-year-old woman, and after 14 years of captivity, she told others she wanted to escape.
“On the last day, she said or she indicated that she was going to use the restroom, and had a relative waiting down the street,” Wagner told the affiliate. “And at the time when she went to the restroom, she went down the street to a vehicle that was waiting and was able to get to the Richmond Police Department.”
Police Lt. Andre Hill said the victim appeared at the police department on August 16, 2012, “and wanted to report sexual abuse.”
“She reported the abuse had been going on for some years,” Hill said, and the suspect “threatened to harm her or her family if she ever reported this abuse.”
Police arrested Ochoa after having the victim place a phone call to him, Hill said.
“With the assistance of the victim, they were able to get him to make some admissions to some of these crimes,” Hill said.
The suspect was arrested a short time later and the case was then referred to the district attorney’s office, who took over the investigation, Hill said.
One neighbor told KGO that she always sensed something was not right at the Ochoa house.
“She didn’t go to school so she, I mean, they were always together, she never had any friends,” Ina Mason told the station.
“I think it’s appalling,” Mason added. “You are supposed to be a Christian, but this is what you are doing to your child or whoever it is, even if it is not your child. I mean, you are doing this to a person? No one has the right to do this to a person.”
In his letter to the city council, the police chief said “this case is a good reminder that human slavery still exists.”
“There are too many instances where terrible crimes can be perpetrated within families over long periods of time and victims, particularly more vulnerable individuals (such a developmentally disabled folks, young people, etc.) are unaware of how to get help or unable to do so,” the chief wrote.
He credited Officer Mitch Peixoto and Detective Walt Nelson for playing “critical” roles in solving the crime.
“Although I can’t get into all the details, it would have been SO easy for them to have interacted with this victim and never figured out what was really going on,” the chief wrote. “Their perceptiveness, empathy, and skills allowed us to save this young woman’s life and bring the perpetrator to justice (if justice can really ever be served on someone who has done such heinous acts).”
Ochoa, who pleaded guilty to one count of forced lewd acts on a child and two counts of forcible rape, is now being held on $30 million bond, according to a detention facility in Contra Costa County.
Ochoa’s attorney didn’t return phone messages this week.