FORT MYERS — A Cape Coral man accused of having a sexual relationship with an 11-year-old Naples girl accepted 15 years in prison at the outset of his trial today.
Gerardo Gonzalez-Jimenez, 26, faced a maximum life sentence in prison if convicted of capital sexual battery on a person younger than 12. He instead pleaded no contest to attempted sexual battery, a first degree felony. The decision came during jury selection in the case.
A scoresheet for Gonzalez-Jimenez calculated a sentencing range of 78 months to 30 years in prison.
A spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office said concern over the victim having to testify against Gonzalez-Jimenez was a factor in the case.
"We spoke to the family about this plea agreement, and they were happy and relieved about it," Samantha Syoen, the spokeswoman, said.
As a convicted felon, Gonzalez-Jimenez is subject to deportation, Syoen noted. She said prosecutors had notified federal immigration officials.
The defendant began reconsidering the trial after a morning ruling by Lee Circuit Judge Ramiro Manalich, who held that a tattoo on the child’s upper thigh reading "Gerardo is my love forever" was admissible.
Defense attorneys argued inclusion of the evidence was irrelevant to the case and highly prejudicial to jurors.
"Any panelist who sees this tattoo on this child, in the location, that’s what they’re going to focus on," said Assistant Public Defender Connie Kelley.
A state prosecutor contended the tattoo would only be used for identification purposes.
"This is not going to be a case where the state says, ‘She has a tattoo, he’s guilty,’" Assistant State Attorney Carrie Pollock said.
Following Manalich’s decision, the defendant consulted with his attorneys, who in turn approached prosecutors. Gonzalez-Jimenez’s attorneys returned with what appeared to be an unsatisfactory answer, and jury selection began. The defendant changed his mind after a lunch recess.
Gonzalez-Jimenez will receive credit for 593 days in county jail. He will be designated a sexual predator, and he will have no contact with the victim, according to the terms of the deal.
The victim, 11 years old at the time of the offense, told detectives she ran away from home in July 2006 to join Gonzalez-Jimenez at his Cape Coral home. She said she met him in Naples when she was in the third grade, at which time the pair began dating. She stayed at his home for nearly a month before returning.
Gonzalez-Jimenez was arrested in 2008.