The Coast News Group
Inez Garcia and Marcial Hernandez: Each charged with 26 counts of aggravated sexual assault against a child, Inez Martinez Garcia (far left) and her husband Marcial Garcia Hernandez (center behind the window) listen to their translators at their arraignment hearing on Dec. 4. Photo by Rachel Stine
CrimeRancho Santa Fe

Oceanside couple charged with 26 counts of aggravated sexual assault

VISTA — An Oceanside couple was charged Monday at the Vista Courthouse with 26 felony counts each of aggravated sexual assault of a child, allegedly enslaving a young girl for forced labor and sex.If convicted of all charges, each of the defendants could face up to 390 years to life in prison.

Inez Martinez Garcia, 43, and her husband Marcial Garcia Hernandez, 45, were arrested outside of their Oceanside home on Nov. 29 by members of the North County Human Trafficking Task Force as the result of a two and a half year “cold case” human trafficking investigation.

According to the investigation, the victim was smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico when she was 12 years old and taken to the Garcia’s on promises of a better life and education. But soon after she arrived, the Garcia’s allegedly forced her to care for the couple’s children, clean and cook. She was also forced to work at a local restaurant, and give all of her wages to Garcia.

Over a 21-month period, she was forced to have sex with Hernandez. At some point, the Garcia’s also forced the victim to have sex with other men for money.

If she did not complete her tasks or have sex with the husband, she was beaten.

After the victim lived with the family for a little over two years, the police were eventually called after Garcia severely beat the victim. After being treated at the hospital, the victim was placed in protective custody and reunited with her family in Mexico.

But because the victim was in Mexico, the case was suspended for nearly 10 years and almost went unprosecuted.

“(The case) literally died because she was reunited with her family,” said Sgt. Joe Mata of the Vista Sheriff’s station.

The investigation was opened when the victim, now a young adult, moved back to the U.S. and came forward to law enforcement.

Law enforcement investigated the case for two and a half years before arresting and charging the Garcia’s, said Mata. Law enforcement had to track down the original incident records, interview involved parties and find the doctor who treated the victim many years ago.

Furthermore, it took a great deal of time before the victim felt comfortable revealing the full story of her ordeal to law enforcement.

“The victim is still traumatized, and she is so deathly afraid of retaliation,” said Mata, explaining why the victim was scared of speaking with law enforcement.

No current information has been released about the victim for her protection.

Vista Superior Court Judge Martin Staven set bail at $2 million each for Garcia and Hernandez.

The felony charges against the Garcia’s span across a 13-month period from June 1, 2001 to June 30, 2002.

The defendants will enter their pleas at a hearing Dec. 18 to allow the defendants time to consider hiring a private attorney, said Deputy District Attorney Gretchen Means, who is prosecuting the case.

Means, who is from the El Cajon DA branch, was brought in for this case specifically due to her expertise in criminal sexual exploitation cases.