INDIO (CBSLA.com) — A man who was accused of having a sexual relationship with his girlfriend’s then-14-year-old sister was acquitted Friday on all charges.
Daniel Patrick Armstrong, 32, of La Quinta was cleared on four felony counts — oral copulation with a person under 16, committing a lewd act with a child under 16, sexual penetration with a foreign object and furnishing marijuana to a minor.
Defense attorney Peter Cabrera told City News Service that Riverside Superior Court Judge Harold W. Hopp acquitted Armstrong of an additional felony count of sending obscene material to a minor.
“It’s just a complete victory for my client … I think it was the right verdict,” Cabrera said. “I’ve known (Armstrong’s father) Coach (Dan) Armstrong a long time, he coached my children at La Quinta High School, I’ve known Danny for years and I’m glad I was able to present a case that demonstrated his innocence.”
Armstrong’s father is a longtime athletic director and head football coach at La Quinta High School.
Deputy District Attorney Brijida Rodarte said in her opening statement last week that Armstrong “took advantage of a 14-year-old child,” and the two engaged in “many sexual acts” and smoked marijuana together in a two- to three-month period.
Armstrong and the girl’s older half-sister helped the girl and her mother move from San Luis Obispo to the Coachella Valley in early 2011, and Armstrong accompanied them when she registered for high school classes.
Eventually their relationship “escalated” and “changed,” and they had sex, Rodarte said.
Rodarte said that, when confronted by the girl’s mother and sister, Armstrong and the girl both denied there was anything between them. They continued to see each other until the girl’s mother found a Skype message she sent a friend after her older sister announced she was pregnant with Armstrong’s child.
The girl allegedly said that she had a relationship with Armstrong, and law enforcement started investigating, Rodarte said.
In three recorded phone calls, the girl was “very focused, very angry and very upset” and Armstrong didn’t tell the girl they should stop talking or she was wrong, Rodarte said in her closing argument Thursday. He repeatedly said he loved her and that they should talk, the prosecutor said.
Sheriff’s Investigator Michael Gaunt, in a declaration in support of an arrest warrant, said the girl told him in August 2011 that she’d had a sexual relationship with Armstrong in March and April of that year.
Armstrong was arrested in August 2011 and later posted a $30,000 bond.
At one time, he worked as a substitute teacher and part-time coach for the Desert Sands Unified School District.
Cabrera said the alleged victim was a “troubled young girl” who was raised by a single mother and started experimenting with drugs in San Luis Obispo. She was suspended from school there for tagging sexual graffiti, and the family agreed it would be best to move, he said.
Armstrong, who had been taught to be a loving person by his parents, “tried to extend that love” to the girl, but she misunderstood and it “developed into a crush on Mr. Armstrong,” Cabrera said in his opening statement.
When confronted about a possible inappropriate relationship, Armstrong and the girl both repeatedly denied anything between them, he said. Then, her older sister said she was pregnant, and the girl “displayed certain (symptoms) of significant jealousy” and said Armstrong had been having sex with her, Cabrera said.
He said the prosecution had no evidence of inappropriate photos and text messages between Armstrong and the girl, and there was no collaboration for her story. He said she lied to her mother, sister, a priest and the woman who did her sexual assault exam.
“What’s the true story? This woman has said everything to everyone, and yet the prosecution would have you convict Mr. Armstrong on that kind of evidence?” Cabrera said in his closing argument Thursday. “… The only thing you heard was the prosecution asking you to speculate, and innuendo.”
He said that in the recorded calls, Armstrong never admitted having sex with the girl. And there was no DNA evidence of their bodily fluids on a couch where they allegedly had sex, he said.
Cabrera said the girl — who said on the stand last week that she didn’t want to testify — “could have pointed to this man’s face and said, `You know you had sex with me’ … She didn’t.”
The transcript of her testimony at the January 2013 preliminary hearing was read to the jury during the trial.
After Rodarte started questioning her last week, the girl, now 17, said, “I don’t want to talk about anything. I feel this is not about me, it’s about the power of the justice system.”
When Rodarte asked if she wanted to see transcripts of the preliminary hearing — during which the girl testified that she and Armstrong had sex, smoked pot and sent each other photos of their privates in March and April 2011 — the teen said she didn’t want to see the transcripts and couldn’t recall the events she previously testified about.
“I told you I don’t want anything to do with this … I feel like this isn’t about protecting me, this is about power, this is about throwing someone well known in the community in jail,” the girl said.