A Chicago man was convicted Thursday of rape and kidnapping charges related to the abduction and repeated sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl in Santa Ana more than two decades ago.
An Orange County Superior Court jury found Ismael Salgado, now 44, guilty of kidnapping to commit a sex crime and five counts of rape related to a series of sexual assaults on Feb. 3, 1999 that went unsolved for more than 15 years until a DNA hit led police to Salgado and a man he was friends with at the time of the abduction.
The 11-year-old girl was walking with a 13-year-old friend on Monta Vista Avenue when a car pulled up next to them. The driver — who prosecutors allege was Salgado — and a passenger, identified as Plascencia, persuaded the girls to get into the vehicle.
The girls quickly changed their minds, according to testimony during the trials. The 13-year-old was able to get out of the vehicle, while Salgado pulled the 11-year-old by the hair and kept her in the car while the vehicle pulled away, according to testimony.
Salgado first drove to a nearby gas station, Senior Deputy District Attorney Kristin Bracic told jurors. As Plascencia kept his hand over the girl’s mouth, the prosecutor said, Salgado went inside to pay.
The men then drove the girl to empty parking lots at Carr Intermediate School and Valley High School, where they took turns raping her while the other held her down, according to testimony. Afterward, the girl was dropped off near a relative’s home.
The girl was able to pick the driver out from surveillance footage at the gas station. But police at the time were unable to identify either the driver or the passenger and the case went cold.
In 2011, Salgado pleaded guilty in an unrelated grand theft case and was required to submit a DNA sample to a law enforcement database. That sample was eventually tied by investigators to the DNA collected in a sexual assault examination of the 11-year-old girl after the 1999 rape.
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Salgado had since moved to Chicago. Hoping to identify the second suspect, investigators looked into people Salgado was friends with in 1999, a group that apparently included Plascencia.
A DNA sample surreptitiously collected by investigators off a water bottle Plascencia left in a gym in Arizona was used to tie him to the abduction and rape of the girl. During his earlier trial, Plascencia’s attorney argued that Plascencia frequently drank and did drugs back in 1999 and had blacked out the night of the sexual assault.
In his recent trial, Salgado’s attorney, Alternate Defender Peter Boldin, argued that Salgado had nothing to do with the abduction or rapes, telling jurors that investigators had arrested the wrong man.
Salgado had let Plascencia borrow his car, Boldin said, and didn’t know who else had been in the vehicle. Salgado had also previously had consensual sex with women in his car, which could have resulted in his DNA being left on the leather seats and “transferred” onto the 11-year-old girl, the defense attorney added.
The prosecution and defense also argued over whether Salgado was the man captured in the gas station security footage and identified at the time as the driver by the victim. The defense contended that Salgado at the time had a different haircut than the man in the grainy footage, while the prosecutor countered that the man in the footage had the same facial features as Salgado.
Saldgado is scheduled to return to court for sentencing on May 10.