Lawrence man, 69, ordered to 25 years to life for molesting 4-year-old at day care center

Richard Gonzalez

A Douglas County judge Thursday ordered a 69-year-old rural Lawrence man to serve 25 years to life in prison for molesting a 4-year-old Lawrence girl at a day care center in 2009.

“It is a harsh punishment for a terrible crime,” District Judge Sally Pokorny said after handing down the sentence to Richard Gonzalez.

A jury in January convicted Gonzalez of sexually abusing the girl at a rural Lawrence day care center. They found him guilty of aggravated criminal sodomy and aggravated indecent liberties with a child. Prosecutors had said the girl alleged the acts occurred several times over a six-week period.

Pokorny sentenced Gonzalez to concurrently serve 25 years to life on each count, meaning he wouldn’t be eligible for parole until he’s 94. If he ever gets out of prison, Gonzalez would be subject to lifetime supervision and electronic monitoring, the judge said.

Amy McGowan, a chief assistant district attorney, read a letter from the girl’s parents in court asking Pokorny to give Richard Gonzalez two consecutive life sentences, saying they feared as she grew older the crimes would affect her greatly.

“That is something that will be with her for a lifetime,” the parents said in the letter.

Defense attorneys Branden Bell and Carl Folsom had asked Pokorny to sentence Gonzalez to serve 75 months in prison because of his age and lack of prior criminal history, arguing a life sentence was unconstitutional.

A doctor also testified for the defense Thursday that he would not consider Gonzalez to be a pedophile and would not be likely to re-offend.

But Pokorny said the Kansas Legislature had passed Jessica’s Law attaching potential life sentences to child sex crimes for a reason, mainly because child victims are “the most vulnerable people that have been preyed upon,” who often don’t have the vocabulary to speak out about the abuse.

“Not only are we looking at physical injuries,” Pokorny said, “we are looking at an ongoing potential psychological injury.”

Gonzalez lived on the property in 2009 that was home to the Miles of Smiles Child Daycare Center, operated by his daughter, southwest of Lawrence. According to Kansas Department of Health and Environment records, the day care center closed in July 2010.

Prosecutors during the four-day trial accused Gonzalez of molesting the girl during nap time in summer 2009 at the day care center. The girl, who had started attending the day care earlier that summer, was eventually examined at a hospital, and investigators began looking into the case.

Bell and Folsom had criticized the state’s DNA evidence during the trial and had argued the girl has an overactive imagination and that investigators improperly interviewed the girl, causing her to detail the allegations.

Gonzalez is expected to appeal the verdict and sentence.