Ex-Nipomo food bank volunteer gets jail time for sexual assault

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comOctober 30, 2013 

A former food bank volunteer was sentenced Wednesday to 180 days in jail for sexually assaulting another volunteer during a date that became a felony.

Christobal H. Lopez, 65, of Nipomo had previously pleaded no contest to sexual battery, which occurred on July 26, 2012. A no-contest plea has the same effect in criminal court as a guilty plea.

According to court records, Lopez, a retired PG&E worker volunteering at the Nipomo Food Basket, went on a date with a fellow volunteer. After having dinner in Pismo Beach, the victim invited Lopez to her place for tea. There, the two hugged and kissed, but Lopez began to grope the woman, who said, “OK, that’s enough — we need to stop.” Despite her efforts to push him away, Lopez then pulled her clothes down and sexually assaulted her, according to police reports.

Lopez’s attorney, Mark Powers, declined to comment, referring questions to his statements in the probation department’s pre-sentencing report. In that, Powers said the defendant misread the victim’s messages.

“They were hugging and kissing, having a good time, and the defendant thought it was OK to move forward,” the report read, paraphrasing Powers. “After the incident, the defendant remained at the victim’s house for approximately one hour, where they conversed and enjoyed tea together.”

The victim, who was initially reluctant to have police involved, chose not to appear at the sentencing, and she did not respond to the probation department’s request for an interview. During their investigation, police uncovered several apologetic texts Lopez sent after the incident, including one that read, “I let God, you and myself down!” Initially, the victim wrote, “It’s ok” and “let’s just be friends,” but later she wrote, “It was sexual assault Chris” and “What happened was wrong.”

Deputy District Attorney Andy Baird recommended the top term for the plea — 180 days — due to the seriousness of the case.

Lopez, who will begin serving his term in January, can serve half his sentence with good behavior.

According to court records, he had been a prior registered sex offender — based on a case from 1977 — though he was given a certificate of rehabilitation in 1997, which allowed him to no longer be registered.

With the new offense, he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

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