By VICTOR A. PATTON
Jurors heard opening statements Tuesday in the trial of a 33-year-old Le Grand man accused of molesting four children and trying to prevent a fifth child from testifying against him in court.
George Allen Leavitt is charged with 10 felony counts of child molestation, ranging from oral copulation to lewd and lascivious conduct with children under 14. He's also charged with witness intimidation, encouraging a witness to give false testimony and a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Leavitt has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. His attorney said the allegations are false.
Prosecutors believe Leavitt had an illicit relationship with a 13-year-old girl in 2007 and 2008. The four additional victims came forward with allegations after an article about Leavitt's plea agreement in that case ran in the Sun-Star last year, according to Deputy District Attorney David Sandhaus. "We're going to present evidence that this person is a child molester," Sandhaus told jurors in court Tuesday, pointing at Leavitt.
Wearing denim jeans and a black, short-sleeved casual shirt, Leavitt sat calmly in court Tuesday as the girl who brought the first allegations against him testified. The girl wept in court as she read love letters Leavitt had allegedly written to her -- letters which were presented to Merced County sheriff's investigators after her mother said she discovered them.
The girl, who is now 15, said Leavitt promised to marry her when she turned 18. The girl testified that Leavitt sent her photos of his genitals. She also testified that she believed Leavitt "loved her for who she was."
Leavitt pleaded no contest on July 17 last year to misdemeanor annoying or molesting of a child, for his relationship with the girl. Prosecutors made an agreement with Leavitt after the 13-year-old girl recanted her testimony. He was sentenced to six months in Merced County Jail, and required to register as a sex offender.
After the plea agreement was reached, however, four children came forward, saying they were molested by Leavitt. The children were two boys, ages 13 and 10, and two girls, ages 11 and 6. Sandhaus said some of those children had lived with Leavitt and came forward after being questioned by their parents.
In addition, the girl who allegedly had a relationship with Leavitt said he'd asked her to lie, before a preliminary hearing in the case last year. "She wanted to protect him from going to jail," Sandhaus told jurors.
Leavitt's attorney Jeffrey Tenenbaum didn't give an opening statement, telling Judge Carol Ash he'd present it later during the trial. Tenenbaum wouldn't elaborate about specific elements of the case, but said his client maintains that he's innocent and the allegations are false.
Tenenbaum said, however, he believes the alleged victims may have financial motivations for pursuing the accusations. "A lot of this has to do with money," he said.
The mother of the 13-year-old girl also testified Tuesday, saying her daughter had become withdrawn and began making statements about leaving for Montana after she turned 18. "I thought, 'Where in the world is this coming from?'" the mother said. "After reading those letters, I knew exactly where it was coming from."
Leavitt remains at the John Latorraca Correctional Center in lieu of $5.1 million bail. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Copied with permission from the Merced Sun-Star.