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OPINION: I Helped Convict a Pedophile Pastor

Jury foreman Jeff Bennett gives a behind-the-scenes peek at Wednesday's conviction of Oscar D. Perez Perez, the Lake Forest pastor who molested five young boys.

Editor's note: Lake Forest resident Jeff Bennett was selected for the jury that convicted Oscar D. Perez Perez of molesting five young boys in his Lake Forest apartment. Here, he shares his experience. 

It was not the type of case you want to sit on as a juror.

During voir dire [jury selection] most of the potential jurors seemed to share shock and discomfort when the basics of the case were presented. The defense counsel, Case Barnett, even brought up the sinking feeling that most people felt during his questioning of jurors.

For me, it was the seriousness of the alleged crimes that initially hit me, and the potential for being tossed into the middle of it as a juror.

For others, the sexual nature of the crime brought up a lot of issues. I would say nearly 25 potential jurors were dismissed after going in and speaking privately with judge and counsel. 

I was impressed by Judge [Steven] Bromberg. He presented the law and the constitutional requirements in a clear way and asked each of us if we could be fair by the definition he presented to follow the law using only the evidence, setting aside any personal feelings, and uphold the Constitution even if we disagreed with the law.

As a member of the National Guard, he definitely struck every civil bone in my body, and while I was still hoping I would be dismissed, it made me feel quite honored to be part of the judicial process.

That being said, this was anything but an easy jury to sit on.

Hearing children testify about this trusted mentor French-kissing them and touching their privates was something I will not soon forget. 

You could see that Oscar D. Perez Perez had assumed a father role for many of these children.

In a recorded interview with one of the victims, we heard the interviewer explain available counseling services, that it was someone you could discuss personal or family matters with. The victim quickly rejected the offer explaining that was what the priest did. 

Perez was held in a very high position by these children, so hearing testimony after testimony of how he abused that trust and scared these kids into submission with threats of the church collapsing and eternal damnation is something I wished only occurred in the minds of television writers. 

This was the type of trial where you are hoping that the charges are not true because they are just that wrong. However, the victims' testimony was convincing and the genuine demeanor of all the boys.

I did not know what to expect from the deliberation process but wanted it to be fair, organized and efficient.

Since selected as the foreperson, I recommended discussing each victim individually at first and then discuss each charge as it related to that victim. 

When examining the charge, we were instructed that we needed to determine if the boys were of the age indicated by the charge, if the alleged conduct willfully occurred and if the defendant had specific intent based on the charge. 

We started off by agreeing on the victims' ages so we could focus on the other two elements of each crime. We moved through each allegation systematically, but when we reached charges 12-15 it was clear that we wanted to discuss the testimony and evidence further, so we tabled them until we finished working though the other allegations, at which point we discussed those charges. 

We wanted to review one of the CAST interviews and do a careful comparison to the testimony and discuss those in more depth, so after splitting the transcript into 12 sections, we found all the relevant information and, after discussing, moved forward through those charges. 

I was surprised at the process; it seemed that for every area I wanted to discuss a bit more, other jurors did too -- and the things I thought were very clear the other jurors had the similar impressions. All the jurors worked hard to ensure that we were being fair and discussing each topic and the relevant evidence before voting. It was one of the most civil meetings I have ever been involved in.  

It was inconvenient having to go into my normal job before and after court.

It was uncomfortable dealing with the topics of the case.

It was enlightening as a look into our legal system and gave me a huge respect for our criminal justice system.

You hear reports on radio and TV about high-profile cases and many of them leave you with the impression the system is broken, but in courtroom C28 of the Central Justice Center Superior Court of California, County of Orange, there was justice, fairness, and constitutional due process.

Joker Joe July 17, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Marc Well spoken....
Marc Schroeder July 17, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Bobo, I don't understand why you would say that? I was under the impression you believe there is a god watching over us? BTW, I did agree with what you wrote the other day about illegals taking American jobs, all you have to do is look at just about any construction site and listen to the Spanish being spoken while I am sitting here arguing with you instead of working.
Marc Schroeder July 17, 2012 at 07:39 PM
LOL Bobo, did your Doctor prescribe you some new medication or did you start smoking cannabis? I admit to being aggressive while commenting at times but you have been just as bad. I did not "assume' you are a Jesus Freak, you have written about it MANY times. Whatever, just keep on taking whatever it is you are on today, even though your logic, spelling and philosophy are a mess, at least you are being pleasant. : )
Joker Joe July 17, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Marc Schroeder Takes one to correspond with one. lol lol My spelling is good. It's my fingers that don't work well.
Paul J. Wallin July 18, 2012 at 05:42 PM
As a trial attorney for over 30 years, it was fascinating to be able to hear from the jurors perspective how our criminal justice system can work so well and how justice can be done. The jurors were the only ones who heard all of the evidence and were able to listen to the testimony of the victims and judge their credibility. They reached their verdict and now the accused will be sentenced harshly for violating a sacred position of trust in molesting these boys. This is a great example of why we must have our cases tried in the courts and not in the media. Amazing reporting and very good summary by the foreman of the jury. IT certainly must have been difficuilt for him and the other jurors to listen to the testimony but I am sure the jurors will look back in years to come and say they feel good about doing this important civic duty. Wallin and Klarich Paul J. Wallin

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