By KAREN VELIE
Which is more important, a criminal defendant’s right to finality or a victim’s rights to be heard and informed? San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jesse Marino is currently pondering that question.
Earlier this year, the SLO County District Attorney’s Office charged a local handyman, Erik Owens, with filming under a neighbor’s skirt and then posting the video on his computer for his own enjoyment.
In August, the district attorney and Owens reached a plea agreement. In exchange for his guilty plea, Owens received a 30-day suspended sentence, three years bench probation, 100 hours of community service, and a $280 fine.
The victim, Tanya Degnan, said she was disappointed in prosecutors for not allowing her to speak at court.
“I do not feel I got justice in the case at all,” Tanya Degnan said. “They never contacted me. I wanted a voice. The DA would never reach out to me.”
About a month ago, the district attorney’s office sent Degnan an apology for violating her rights under Marsy’s Law, Degnan said.
Marsy’s Law, the state’s Victim’s Bill of Rights, provides victims the right to be heard, to be informed about court proceedings, and the ability to seek restitution.
At a hearing on Monday, Marino considered a motion to reopen the case based on the violations of Degnan’s rights. At the same time, defendants have a right to finality and against double jeopardy.
“I keep hearing about his rights,” Degnan said in a statement to the court. “What about my rights, my rights under Marsy’s Law? I was never provided notice of the proposed plea. I was not notified of the proposed court indicated sentence, not notified of the date and time of sentencing, not afforded my right to be heard as to the impact of the crime at the time of sentencing, not afforded the opportunity to seek restitution, and I was never afforded the opportunity to provide testimony as to why a criminal protective order should be issued during the probation period.”
After listening to Degnan’s statement, Marino said he needed time to research the law. He is slated to provide a ruling on Friday afternoon.
“I’m here today to express my feelings of embarrassment, anger, sadness and disbelief for an incident that happened to me in my own home by a then-trusted local contractor and family friend. It was done without my knowledge years ago but I was recently informed of it, and the shock of it has devastated not only myself but my family as well. I was traumatized the night I found out, his ex-wife called me hysterical that she needed to show me something and asked for me to come over right away. She had came across a file he had on their home computer with pictures and videos of women, and one was of me. She played it for me and there I stood watching this man that I had trusted enter my home to work on a job and casually talk to me and wait until I had my back turned reading numbers off of an electrical unit that he intentionally asked me to turn and read for him, and then deliberately not once but twice placed his phone up my skirt and record my crotch area for his own sexual pleasures, while his 3-year-old son was standing nearby.
“And he did this knowing that my husband was a deputy sheriff and was working at the time. He then went to his own home and downloaded the video into a separate folder of other pictures and videos of other women. He kept my video on his computer for five years to use as he pleased.
“According to Atascadero Police Department, when they contacted him he used the words, ‘It was just a phase I was going through,’ as to why he did this. So this was not a one-time incident or an accident. It was a phase, meaning more than once. This was a deliberate act, and by his own words done many times to multiple victims over an extended period of time.
“Having to watch the videos he took of me and then finding out there were other unidentified victims on his computer traumatized me, and the only way I felt I would be able to recover would be to get justice, so I contacted the police that night and placed my faith into the system.
“For months, I had to see my assailant every day I went to drop off or pick my son up from football practices and games because this man was not only a coach but a board member of our youth football program. I had to walk around the school to avoid coming anywhere near him. He was allowed to live his life untouched by these events. He remained on the board for youth cheerleading and football for the majority of the season. I would see his work trucks and his personal truck drive near my house constantly since his kids live less than a 1/4 mile away. I felt concerned when he would drive by, wondering if he was just driving by to see if I was home alone. I would go downtown to the grocery store and I’d see him and I’d have to turn around and walk in the opposite direction down the aisle. I ask the courts how is this fair that I should have to walk away as the victim of a sexual crime?
“I finally thought I was going to have my voice heard. I spoke to the district attorney in this matter and I told him I wanted to testify. I wanted my voice to be heard, I wanted a jury of our peers to hear this case and let them decide. The district attorney said he didn’t think he would get jail time out of this case. How can that be? The DA had a confession, video evidence of the act and a victim who was willing to testify. I wanted to feel safe and I wanted a restraining order, and asked the DA for one.
“The response I got was that this man wanted to fight that because he didn’t want to lose his guns! This trained veteran with firearms found out that I am willing to testify against him and am looking for a restraining order, and his concern was for keeping his guns! This person knows the layout of my house. His kids live less than a 1/4 mile away from me. He knows my husband works shift work. I am home alone in the middle of the night. Yet the courts decided that me, the victim, shouldn’t be entitled to feel safe in my own residence. Because this was ‘his first time, he’s sorry and is a veteran.’ And so he, the perpetrator of a sexual crime has more rights than than me, the victim.
“As the matter went on in the courts, I was waiting for the date to testify, to finally be heard. I later found out that the DA had made a plea deal that he was going to be doing 30 days in the county jail. But I then got the paperwork and found out that wasn’t correct at all. He wasn’t going to be doing the 30 days in jail after all. He received a suspended sentence, which means he will never do any jail time. Then I saw he was fined and I looked at the fine. I would be fined a greater amount if I got caught speeding on the freeway or got caught calling my son in my car to tell him I would be late to pick him up. Me, I would be fined by the courts more money and be punished harder for using a cell phone in my car than this man got for using a cell phone to video up my skirt for his sexual pleasure.
“I was shocked and humiliated when I heard this news, and thought how could the courts fail me like this? I was re-victimized this time by the very courts I thought were there to protect me and be my voice. Nobody took into account my rights, my opinions. I further looked into this ‘plea deal’ and was infuriated to see that they had given him no terms, nothing for probation or oversight. He has no search terms, no search of electronics, nothing to hold him accountable. He was still going into peoples’ homes with his phone, and the courts again fail to protect. This time the courts failed society at large. How could you allow this man to continue to go into houses with his phone knowing there’s an identified victim out there, and there were other unidentified victims on his phone and computer, and not hold him accountable with searching of his phone? I was ‘reassured’ by the district attorney that there were search terms in this case. I then got a call back from the DA who then had to admit there wasn’t any search terms. I also saw that part of the plea was community work. I am sure the courts are going to allow this man to use the hours he volunteered as a member of the board of directors for the Atascadero cheerleading and football to get his hours. This man pleaded to filming up my skirt for sexual gratification, and the courts will then turn a blind eye and most likely allow him to use his position of authority as a director of cheerleading and football to fulfill his community work hours.
“So I found out I would never have my day in court, and that this man’s attorney got to speak highly of him, and how much of a good person he was and the fact he is a veteran. Meanwhile, my voice was silenced by this very court.
“Three men got together, the judge, the district attorney and his attorney to decide what was best for me, the female victim, and to ensure his rights were upheld. Those three men went into a back office and sat down and made sure his rights were protected, and came up with this plea deal. What about my rights, the rights as a female, as a victim? I never got to testify. I was never allowed a victim impact statement. The district attorney told me that the judge decided on this plea deal that day and sentenced him that very day. Not one of those men thought to wait, to pause to see what the victim in this matter might think.
“You wonder why victims, especially women, have a hard time coming forward. They don’t feel like their voices will be heard, and I am proof of that.
“I keep hearing about his rights. What about my rights, my rights under Marsy’s law?
1. I was never provided notice of the proposed plea
2. Not notified of the proposed court indicated sentence
3. Not notified of the date and time of sentence
4. Not afforded my right to be heard as to the impact of the crime at the time of sentencing
5. Not afforded the opportunity to seek restitution
6. I was never afforded the opportunity to provide testimony as to why a criminal protective order should be issued during the probation period.
“I have been victimized by males several times throughout my life. It was always ‘they didn’t realize what they were doing was wrong, they were just a child themselves, I shouldn’t have been there in the first place, I led him on, it was his first time, it was just a phase he was going through, he’s a good guy, a veteran.’ I’ve always hated conflict, and would rather just forget about traumatic events and push them to the very back of my mind. And when this situation came up, I nearly fell into those same habits I have my whole life and just let it go, don’t let yourself go through the sadness and the embarrassment of it, don’t say or do anything. But with the encouragement of my husband and family they gave me the courage to stand up to this crime against me. There needs to be more stringent laws against men who victimize women. In whatever capacity. In this case using their phones to film up the skirt of an unknowing woman. I have been victimized for the last time. If no one else will stand up for me, then I will do it for myself and all the other women out there who feel that their voice is not being heard as well.
“Thank you for listening.”