Citizen of the Week!

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Gabriel Zarate didn't originally deny he taken an incestuous interest in his 7-year-old daughter for a two-year period. He admitted that he forced her to orally copulate him. He even acknowledged that on "five or six" other occasions, he stripped her and rubbed his erect penis on her vagina as masturbation when his wife wasn't home.

But the 31-year-old father of four children doesn't understand all the fuss. It especially irks him that Santa Ana police, prosecutors, a jury and a judge didn't sympathize with him. He says he's a victim of a cruel criminal-justice system.

Why?

The 6-foot, 230-pound Zarate insists he never once penetrated his 4-foot, 55-pound daughter's vagina. So he wants to know: Shouldn't that display of willpower give him some sort of credit?

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Sorry, pal. His daughter told detectives that her father is a pedophile and a liar. According to her statements, Zarate regularly engaged her in painful vaginal and anal intercourse. He also threatened to beat her with a belt if she told anyone. That fear kept her mouth closed.

Most solved crimes have a hero, and in this case, it's Zarate's wife of nine years. One day in March 2006, she told her daughter that she was going grocery shopping and that her father would watch her. The little girl grimaced. Her mother noticed. She left the house but waited outside for several minutes before re-entering by climbing through a window. She heard her daughter cry out from inside a bathroom, "No, Papi, no!"

The door was locked, so the mother used a kitchen knife to open it, and then screamed. She discovered both of them nude in the tub. Zarate had an erection and was kneeling between the second-grader's spread legs.

"You dog, what are you doing to my daughter?" she asked, before running for a phone to call 911. Zarate leaped from the tub, took the phone away and begged her not to call police. He told his wife that he hadn't hurt their girl, and then blamed the woman for sparking his incestuous emotions. She had refused him sex too often, he explained.

When police detectives arrived, Zarate admitted he'd been stupid, but he noted that because it was his own daughter he was using for sex, he had tried to be gentle.

It took two days' worth of jury deliberations, but Orange County prosecutors won convictions on multiple felony charges earlier this year. Superior Court Judge Gary S. Paer sentenced Zarate to spend the next 75 years in a California prison. He'll be 106 the first time he can ask a parole board to restore his freedom.

From Wasco State Prison, Zarate wrote a Sept. 10 letter to the court demanding a new trial because "I was found guilty without enough evidence." He also claimed that the district attorney's office "manipulated the whole case and that's why the jury found me guilty."

A three-member Court of Appeal panel gave Zarate the bad news last week: Get comfortable in that prison cell.

(Wednesdays at OCWeekly.com, discover the depths of human depravity in Orange County, California.)

Click HERE for previous "Citizen of the Week!" winners.

-- R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly


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