A San Luis Obispo jury heard testimony Friday from two young girls who described sexual abuse suffered at the hands of a family friend more than three years ago.
Both girls, now 11 and 16 years old, testified calmly and without tears just feet from where Matthew Betts, who stands accused of nine felonies, sat with his defense team.
Betts, 47, faces six counts of lewd acts on a child and three counts of sexual penetration of a child.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is out of custody on $250,000 bail, according to court records.
His trial began with jury selection Monday and opening statements were presented Thursday.
The Tribune is omitting certain names and details related to the case to protect the confidentiality of the alleged victims and their families.
Betts was arrested June 29, 2016, after a then-13-year-old told investigators that Betts, who had dated the girl’s mother, had abused her over the course of about five years, three years earlier.
Investigators learned of a separate incident, in which a friend of Betts’ allegedly caught him inappropriately touching the friend’s then-8-year-old daughter during a gathering in the family’s living room.
‘Angered, troubled, confused’
On Friday, the now-16-year-old told jurors that Betts dated her mother for several years, becoming so close to the family that she at times considered him like a stepfather. But beginning in 2012, she testified, Betts began sexually molesting her in her room when her mother was not present and he was to be supervising them. She said the abuse occurred “frequently” over several years.
“I was never really sure what was going to happen” when Betts babysat, the girl testified.
Asked by Deputy District Attorney Lisa Muscari why she didn’t tell anyone about the abuse, she said she “thought bad things were going to happen” and because her mother loved Betts.
The girl’s family has since moved out of the state. But she began experiencing anxiety and other issues around the time of a planned visit back to San Luis Obispo in June 2016, which her mother later described on the stand as her daughter feeling “angered, troubled, confused.”
The girl confided in a family friend who was a counselor, and the two sent a series of Facebook messages to Betts “to get him to admit that he did it,” the girl testified.
During that exchange, the girl asked Betts if she was still a virgin, and he responded “you are a virgin” and called her sweetheart. The jury was shown the message thread in court Friday.
The family friend contacted authorities, and a San Luis Obispo police detective placed a recorded “pretext” phone call with the girl and Betts, in which he denied any inappropriate behavior.
“I didn’t do anything like that to you,” Betts was heard saying in the recording played for the jury.
Under cross examination by defense attorney Ginger Ortiz, the girl conceded that she told the detective that she “felt safe” with Betts at the house because he was a “big dude.”
The girl’s mother also testified that she, Betts and her kids were “like family,” and at first was in disbelief about her daughter’s accusations.
“My instinct was I know this man well,” she said. “I loved him.”
Under cross examination, the woman told defense attorney Jeff Radding it took her therapy to recognize signs of abuse.
“In hindsight, it’s easy to see the red flags,” she testified. “I never expected this.”
‘I was confused’
The now 11-year-old girl from the separate incident — the two families did not directly know each other — also testified Friday, with a friend at her side for support.
The girl testified that her father was friends with Betts, who was doing landscape work at their house. Though the date was not clear from the testimony, the girl said she, her father and Betts were sitting on the home’s living room couch one night.
She testified that when her father stepped out briefly, Betts twice massaged her thigh with his hand under the supposed guise of petting the family dog, which was sitting between them.
“I was confused,” she testified. “I was in shock. I didn’t really know what to do.”
Her father returned and witnessed the touching, she said, and Betts was told to leave. The incident was later reported to police.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday.