SAN DIEGO - Scott Espinosa was looking at 35 years in prison. He was convicted of six felonies, including rape by force, pimping and pandering.
His victim initially told the police she was 14 years old, but she was not. In fact, police would later learn the woman was a 23-year-old at the time who had three children. Click here to see Espinosa's arrest information (mobile users: http://bit.ly/1fxDGob).
And as Team 10 would learn, much of the case against Espinosa was not as it seemed.
His accuser laid out a long list of ugly accusations.
Team 10 acquired the audio tapes of the police interviews with the victim, including her claim that while she was held captive by Espinosa in his La Mesa apartment, 10 men showed up to have sex with her.
She described how Espinosa told her to have sex with the men, two at a time.
Espinosa was lucky to have a few people in his corner. One was Laura Wilson, a licensed attorney who sat at the defense table after she asked Espinosa's attorney, Jeff Carver, if she could watch the trial. She wanted to see how a criminal case was done from the beginning to end.
Wilson said she was angered by a guilty verdict. She said she felt the case should not even have come to court because the woman's explanations to the police about the events changed dramatically over a short timeframe. In one interview, she would make one claim. In the second interview, the victim contradicted what she said earlier.
She recalled for Team 10 the claim made by the rape victim that 10 men showed up at Espinosa's apartment who paid to have sex with her.
In an interview two days later, the victim recanted her earlier interview. Wilson told Team 10, "She said, 'Oh, well, yeah, that never happened,' she said. 'I must have dreamed that.'"
We have provided you part of the police interview with the victim to see how the police and the victim interacted during the initial interview. Click here to read the interview (mobile users: http://bit.ly/1bqeU8P).
Multiple sources, including investigators and Espinosa's neighbors, revealed how the woman who was allegedly held against her will actually was free to move around in Espinosa's apartment complex.
"The woman was free to go in the complex," said one source close to the investigation. "She would go to the neighbors to have her hair done. She would go to the other neighbor to smoke a cigarette."
Espinosa's mother Brenda lived in Oklahoma where Espinosa used to live. She was depressed over her son's long prison term and told Nick Espinosa, her former husband and Espinosa's father, she was really upset. The thought of never seeing her son free again deeply troubled her. She would kill herself.
An emotional Espinosa had a difficult time recalling his mother's death.
"You know, my mom died thinking that I'm a rapist. You can't give that back to me," Espinosa said.
That declaration plus a motion for a new trial filed by Espinosa's new attorney resulted in Judge Michael Smyth granting a new trial. Here is the attorney's motion for a new trial (mobile users: http://bit.ly/19Z4L2z).
In preparation for this, Smyth told Espinosa's new attorney and the new prosecutor for the District Attorney's Office they could fly to Oregon to videotape an interview of important witnesses: the accuser's family.
By this time, Team 10 had already interviewed the accuser's mother and grandmother. Click here to see the SDPD investigators follow-up report where they talked to the victim's mother (mobile users: http://bit.ly/1chIgV1). Note the claims that Espinosa was trying to sell her to the cartel and how her mother describes her behavior.
They both confirmed the accuser was 24 years old, had been a prostitute, lied continuously and used drugs extensively.
The accuser's mother, Theresa Peterson, contradicted most of the claims her daughter, Lindsay Peterson, had made about her life to the San Diego Police Department.
"I would like to see him get a fair trial and ultimately a release," said Theresa Peterson.
The San Diego District Attorney’s Office offered a plea bargain.
For Espinosa, it was a tough call. He could agree to have his case heard again at a second trial or walk out of jail in a couple days if he pled to a lesser charge. Espinosa told Team 10 he wanted out. He did not trust the system to get it right the second time.
He pleaded guilty to a pandering charge, or helping a prostitute. Espinosa said it was ironic because he said he is not a pimp.
All rape charges were dropped by the District Attorney's Office. A spokesperson would only say the office was "satisfied" with the plea deal.
Four days after Espinosa accepted the offer and a couple years after imprisonment, he walked out of the Vista jail and was greeted by his friends and father.
Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, released the following statement to 10News:
"Prosecuting sex crimes cases, such as pimping and pandering, are always difficult. The victims are vulnerable and often inconsistent. In the Scott Espinosa case, a jury found the defendant guilty based on all of the information provided during trial, including the inconsistencies of the victim. A judge later granted a new trial because of the ineffective assistance of the defendant’s attorney. On the advice of his new defense attorney, the defendant chose to plead guilty before the second trial got underway and we agreed to the plea."