In opening salvos, prosecuting and defense attorneys laid out their strategies in the trial of Ronald Bragonier of Maricopa Tuesday.
Deputy County Attorney Kristen Sharifi described the defendant as manipulative and obsessed with the reported victim. Defense attorney Vicki Lopez said the accusations against her client were all lies.
“The defendant has stated outright he didn’t do this,” Lopez told the jury.
Bragonier is accused of child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor. The alleged crimes are said to have been committed when the victim was 13 and 14 years old. Bragonier was arrested in 2017.
Sharifi showed the jury photos of the child with family and with Bragonier, who was a long-time friend of the family. Though not related, the child called Bragonier “tio” or uncle, Sharifi said.
“This whole family trusted this defendant,” she told the jury, who stayed mainly expressionless through the opening statements of the attorneys.
The child first met Bragonier during karate lessons the child was taking along with Bragonier’s child. Years later, the families encountered each other again at a local gym where the alleged victim was asked to join the cheerleading team. That became in-state and out-of-state competitions. Bragonier sometimes volunteered as a handyman at the gym, Sharifi said.
“It became apparent the defendant took a strong interest in [the victim],” Sharifi said.
Sharifi said Bragonier had access to the child “whenever he wanted” and described actions of getting close to the child, being alone with the child, inviting the child to sleepovers and buying hundreds of collectible cars as well as clothing and underwear for the child.
The four counts of molestation involve accusations that Bragonier, at various times, handled the child’s genitals, rubbed his own genitals on the child, touched the child’s buttocks and touched the child’s genitals with a blanket. The single count of sexual conduct with a minor is purported oral sex.
Meanwhile, the reported victim, Sharifi said, was helpless, did not know what to do and decided “the only option was to go with it.” During some alleged incidents, she told the jury, the child pretended to be asleep or would simply freeze.
Sharifi said the child’s mother “had a gut feeling” about the child’s relationship with Bragonier. When she asked the child about it, however, the child denied there was anything wrong.
One of the owners of the cheerleading gym is expected to testify to overhearing an argument between Bragonier and the child Nov. 18, 2017. Police allegedly discovered hundreds of text messages per week between the two.
Sharifi displayed copies of some of Bragonier’s purported texts expressing anger in harsh language, castigating the child for apparently avoiding or ignoring him.
Sometime over Thanksgiving weekend that year, the child reportedly told a sister of being sexually abused by Bragonier. The child was forensically interviewed Nov. 28. The child described incidents happening in a vehicle, Bragonier’s home, in Florida and in the Desert Passage house of a “snowbird” Bragonier was homesitting.
“He was happy he finally told someone,” Sharifi said.
Physical evidence expected to be introduced are 3-by-3-centimeter samples of a blanket (comforter) and a towel. Lopez told the jury there are reasons Bragonier’s semen would be on the items that had nothing to do with molestation claims.
“Lies make a defendant helpless,” Lopez said.
Bragonier, Lopez said, has denied all charges from the beginning and insisted on a trial. She said he was falsely accused and heart-broken over the accusations.
Instead of being a molester and manipulator, Lopez said, Bragonier was a mentor who had collections of his own he liked to share. She said explanations for all accusations would come through her upcoming cross-examination.
“Every relationship between an adult and a child can be misunderstood,” Lopez said.
While Sharifi claimed Bragonier showed the child pornography, Lopez told the jury there was no indication of any porn on any of Bragonier’s devices.