AIKEN - A Costa Rican construction worker will spend the next 20 years in prison after an Aiken County jury found him guilty of molesting a North Augusta boy.
Jurors deliberated for 90 minutes Wednesday before finding 37-year-old Warner Salazar guilty on three felony counts of first-degree sexual conduct with a minor. Mr. Salazar and his 52-year-old wife, Edith Salazar, showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
The victim, a 10-year-old boy who has since moved to Alabama, testified during the two-day trial that Mr. Salazar repeatedly molested him in his home when the boy was 7 and 8 years old. A pediatrician also testified to finding a scar on the boy's body that pointed to sexual trauma.
Mr. Salazar took the witness stand Wednesday to deny the allegations with the aid of a translator. He acknowledged sharing a bed with the boy, saying he couldn't sleep with his wife because she reeked of cigarette smoke and snored.
In her closing argument, Assistant 2nd Circuit Solicitor Brenda Brisbin discounted the defense's contention that the sleeping arrangements were due to cultural differences in Mr. Salazar's native country.
"That was the culture - everybody sleeps with everybody down there," Ms. Brisbin said. "Maybe that's true, but he's not in Costa Rica anymore, folks."
Defense attorney Ben Jackson argued that the boy's testimony and previous statements to investigators were riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions, and suggested the accusations were part of an attempt to escape a poor home life.
Ms. Brisbin countered that no 10-year-old boy would subject himself to the embarrassment and humiliation of testifying in front of strangers about "disgusting details" in order to carry out a scheme. The jury agreed.
Mr. Salazar's wife, Edith, faces related charges in the case and is free on bond awaiting trial.
Two other people who the boy said molested him in the home have not been located by authorities.
After the verdict, the boy's legal guardian said she "never, never" doubted the boy's story.
"Somebody has to believe in children," she said.
Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.