By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — He wasn’t a stranger lurking in the playground.
Enrique Sanchez-Leon was a neighbor, a friend of a friend and the baby-sitter whom parents trusted.
Sanchez-Leon also is a child rapist and prolific pornographer, who compulsively cataloged the years of abuse he inflicted on kids, some as young as 3. His crimes are some of the worst that local authorities have seen.
A Snohomish County judge on Tuesday sentenced Sanchez-Leon to 35 years in prison. There is a good chance that Sanchez-Leon, 39, will never again live outside prison walls.
Superior Court Judge Linda Krese said the unspeakable acts that the defendant committed will have far-reaching impacts on the victims and their families. She can’t imagine the pain the parents must feel, knowing how their children suffered, the judge said.
The father of one of the victims broke down in tears as Sanchez-Leon was led into the courtroom. The man’s daughter was raped, molested and photographed by the defendant. She just turned 9.
“I wish he’s never released. I have no doubt if he is ever released, he will offend again,” the father said. “This man is a danger to society.”
Sanchez-Leon, of Snohomish, pleaded guilty in May to three counts of child rape, two counts of child molestation, two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and possession of child pornography.
Lawyers agreed to recommend a 35-year prison sentence in exchange for his guilty plea. That’s about 9 years more than the pedophile faced under the standard range established by the state’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
The plea agreement spared the young victims the trauma and humiliation of having to testify in court, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Adam Cornell said. They won’t have to relive the horrors in a public trial, he said. Cornell also predicted that if the case had gone to trial, jurors likely would have needed professional counseling after being shown some of the evidence, which includes thousands of images of children being sexually assaulted.
Krese said she can understand why the children’s parents and others would want to see Sanchez-Leon sentenced to more time. She explained, however, that she needed to consider the potential impact on the resolution of future cases if she went beyond the recommended sentence. It is important for prosecutors to be able to negotiate in good faith to avoid having to put victims and their families through a public trial, she said.
She also pointed out that Sanchez-Leon’s fate ultimately will lie in the hands of the state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board. Once he serves the minimum sentence, he will have to convince the board that he is ready for freedom. He’ll be about 70 before the board will even consider releasing him. He also faces deportation to Mexico after his sentence is served.
Krese forbid the defendant from having any contact with minor children, including his son.
Sanchez-Leon apologized Tuesday, saying he took full responsibility for his actions. But a short time later, he denied raping a 3-year-old girl. He said he was forced to confess to the crime. Authorities say there are photographs documenting the abuse. The defendant also blamed the girl’s mother for leaving her child with him.
The woman was in the courtroom Tuesday. Before Sanchez-Leon spoke, she had read from a letter. She said that the defendant stole her daughter’s life and broke the hearts of so many. She will never again entrust her child to anyone but family, the mother said.
“You are the one who has to stand before God and explain what you’ve done,” the woman said.
Sanchez-Leon’s crimes came to the attention of Snohomish police detectives last year when two young sisters broke their silence about what their baby-sitter had done to them.
Sanchez-Leon later admitted that he began grooming the girls for sexual exploitation in 2009. He plied them with candies and chocolate milk. He sexually abused the girls and videotaped and photographed the crimes.
Detectives identified five other victims. Some reported that the defendant took sexually explicit photographs of them, giving them gifts or offering them money.
Investigators say the crimes were captured in the tens of thousands of disturbing images they found while searching the man’s apartment and reviewing the contents of 30 computers and 60 external hard drives.
The images also led prosecutors to charge Caitlin Ferry, of Sultan, with child molestation and sexual exploitation of a child. She is accused of abusing a 7-year-old boy. Investigators believe Sanchez-Leon took the photographs and witnessed the abuse. Ferry is scheduled to go to trial next month.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.