Couple sentenced for teen molestation

A Santa Maria couple who had pleaded no contest to sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl apologized for their conduct Thursday in a Santa Maria courtroom during their sentencing hearing.

Sean Pelino, 30, and his wife, Rachelle Pelino, 28, were each sentenced to four years and four months in state prison by Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Edward Bullard.

The sentence was part of a plea agreement the couple entered into on Jan. 17.

Police have said the couple used Wiccan ceremonies and marijuana in their molestation of the victim, and that the abuse happened over the course of a year.

“I cannot look in the mirror in my own reflection and not feel anger, regret or hostility,” Rachelle Pelino said in court, as she gave what she said was a deep and sincere apology.

Sean Pelino said he could only imagine his fury if a 30-year-old man had sex with his 10-year-old daughter. He said his punishment was “fair justice.”

“Someday, I hope you can forgive the unforgivable,” he said in apparent reference to the victim or her family.

The apologies did not move the victim’s aunt, who asked that her name not be used so as not to identify the victim.

“It was completely empty,” she said, adding that she thought the apologies were an attempt to gain sympathy in court.

The woman, who attended the sentencing with the victim’s mother, gave a victim-impact statement before the court Thursday.

The Pelinos entered no-contest pleas to charges of committing a lewd act on a child and sending pornography to a minor, according to Deputy District Attorney Megan Baldwin.

Sean Pelino also pleaded no contest to penetration with a foreign object on a minor, while Rachelle Pelino pleaded no contest to oral copulation on a minor.

Allegations that the couple furnished marijuana to the victim were dismissed as part of the plea agreement, Baldwin said.

If the Pelinos had been convicted of the marijuana charges, she said, they could have potentially been sent to prison for an additional two years.

Baldwin has said the couple, who will be eligible for parole at some point during their sentences, will be required to register as sex offenders.

The Pelinos were arrested in July at their Santa Maria apartment after investigators concluded a two-month investigation that was spurred by a tip from a relative of the victim.

The Pelinos’ two children – ages 7 and 9 at the time of the couple’s arrest – were taken into protective custody when police served a search warrant at their apartment last summer.

The victim’s aunt said before the court Thursday that the girl, who was a high school freshman when she met the Pelinos, was vulnerable to abuse because her father had recently died suddenly.

“She was easy prey for two people that had wild sexual fantasies about children,” the victim’s aunt said.

The Pelinos doggedly pursued the teenager, the aunt said, and were deliberate and self-serving in their actions.

“Now we’re dealing with the aftermath,” she said.

The victims’ relatives tried to stop the Pelinos from having contact with the girl, she said.

The aunt said outside court that family members did not know until later that the girl was being sexually abused, but said they discovered the couple were giving drugs to the teenager .

The girl is doing better now, her aunt said, and is attending counseling twice weekly.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday February 15, 2008.
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