Human trafficking suspect gave alleged victim a safe haven, attorney says

Oscar Higueros Jr. is seen Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in San Luis Obispo Superior Court during his trial in a human-trafficking case.
Oscar Higueros Jr. is seen Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in San Luis Obispo Superior Court during his trial in a human-trafficking case. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A Cambria man accused of turning a teenager into his personal sex slave actually provided the troubled girl a safe haven, his defense attorney told jurors Wednesday.

“The testimony is going to show that he cared for her — that he loved her,” attorney Jay Peterson said.

But although Oscar Higueros Jr. was nice to the victim early on, a prosecutor said, he became increasingly domineering as part of his plan to become the girl’s “master.”

“She had to iron his clothes a certain way,” Deputy District Attorney Greg Devitt told jurors. “She had to make his coffee a certain way. If she didn’t, there were consequences.”

Higueros, 40, faces 35 charges, including numerous counts of forcible rape, in a human trafficking case that has already resulted in the conviction of a San Francisco Bay Area man, Richard Brooks. Brooks, 40, met the teen through Craigslist and had sex with her several times himself before pimping her out through another Craigslist ad in July 2014, according to testimony from his trial.

Higueros, a volunteer fire captain in Cayucos, is accused of paying $150 to have sex with the girl at her Los Osos home while her mother and younger sister were out of town. Not long after that, Devitt told jurors, the teen and her mother had a falling out. The teen — referred to in court as “Jane Doe” — then asked Higueros if she could stay with him. And for the next month, she did.

Higueros eventually became aggressive, violent and demanding, having sex with the teen as often as five times a day while supplying her with cocaine. Higueros even tried to get the teen to sign a sex-slave contract.

Devitt said seven other women will testify that Higueros was abusive toward them. In each relationship, Devitt said, Higueros’ behavior changed.

“He became more aggressive, calling them sluts or whores, beating them with a belt,” Devitt said.

Devitt said video shot by Higueros will show him tying a belt around the girl’s neck. He also will show video of Higueros injuring the girl’s wrist during rough sex.

“He wanted to dominate her,” Devitt said.

Peterson, the defense attorney, said the teen told Higueros she was 18 when she asked to stay with him. And the two quickly learned that they had something in common, Peterson said: Both lost fathers during their childhoods.

Higueros’ father was violent toward his own family, according to court records and Tribune archives. In 1990, Oscar Higueros Sr. was murdered in the family’s Los Osos home. The case remains unsolved.

Jane Doe became estranged from her father as a young child after she accused her paternal grandfather of molesting her. After she made the accusations, the grandfather committed suicide, leading to a divide in the family.

Peterson said Jane Doe sought refuge with his client.

“She was looking for a place to go, to get away from the environment she was in,” he told jurors.

The two did have sex, he said — sometimes rough sex — but it was consensual.

“The evidence is going to show that he never had sex with anyone against their will,” Peterson said.

When Higueros learned the girl was 17, Peterson said, they stopped having sex.

“But he didn’t throw her out of the house,” he said. “He didn’t force her into the street.”

Peterson suggested that Higueros would testify. Jane Doe will testify, and the prosecution will show the jurors sexually explicit videos that Higueros allegedly recorded of the two of them.

After jurors convicted Brooks in a separate trial, he was sentenced to 61 years and eight months to life in prison for his role in the case.

Patrick S. Pemberton: 805-781-7903, @ppemberton