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April 20, 2024

Honduran Man Found Guilty of Sex Crimes in St. Tammany Parish

District Attorney Collin Sims reports that on April 17, 2024, after a 17-minute deliberation, a St. Tammany Parish jury found 45 year-old Kerling Tony Ruiz-Cardona of Honduras, guilty of sexual battery and indecent behavior with a juvenile. Sentencing is scheduled for July 31st. The defendant faces up to ten years in prison on the sexual battery charge and up to seven years in prison on the indecent behavior with juveniles charge.

In July of 2019, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office responded to a Mandeville business regarding a complaint of a customer inappropriately touching a female juvenile. The 14-year-old victim reported that she sometimes accompanies her mother to work. On one such occasion, the victim was making herself breakfast in the kitchen of her mother’s workplace when a customer entered the kitchen. He came up behind her, pressed his body and genitals against her, stroked her arm, kissed her cheek, and slid his hand through an opening of her overalls and into her underwear while saying something that she could not understand. She pushed him away and he retreated after smirking at her. The girl’s mother told officers the defendant had done something similar to her a year and a half prior.

During the trial, prosecutors presented testimony from the victim, her mother, investigating officer Edwin Gornor of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, Hope House Forensic Interviewer Megan Lebron, and Dr. Paige Culotta, an expert in the field of child abuse pediatrics.

The defendant testified on his own behalf and claimed the victim’s family had reported him because he started going to Lowe’s to buy building materials instead of from their business and that they also wanted him deported back to Honduras.

In closing arguments at the conclusion of the trial, defense counsel told the jury that “only the defendant and the victim know the truth” and “it’s all about credibility.” He said that there was no physical evidence to prove the incident really occurred.

In her closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Christina Fisher said, “the victim has no reason to lie. She has been detailed and consistent throughout.” ADA Amanda Gritten, in her closing argument, reminded the jury, “When the defense attorney asked his client if there was anything else he wanted to tell the jury, the defendant did not take that opportunity to tell them, ‘yes, I’m innocent.’” Ms. Gritten told them further, “the victim will have to live with this memory for the rest of her life and the only verdict appropriate in this case is to find the defendant guilty as charged.”

Assistant District Attorneys Amanda Gritten and Christina Fisher prosecuted the case. District Judge Vincent Lobello presided over the three-day trial.

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