Sumas man gets prison for sex abuse of girl

A Sumas man must spend 10 years in prison for the repeated sexual abuse of a young girl, a Whatcom County judge ruled Wednesday, Feb. 10.

Sumas police learned through a tip in August 2014 that a preteen girl had told a babysitter that Charlton “Lee” Cisneros, 45, had molested her.

That afternoon police spoke with the girl at her home. At first she said that she’d had a dream a few years ago about Cisneros touching her, but it had just been a dream, according to charging papers.

However, the next day she went in for a forensic interview at the Brigid Collins Family Support Center in Bellingham. The girl told the interviewer that Cisneros started raping her when she was about 4 years old. A Department of Corrections report concluded that Cisneros raped and molested her almost nightly for about seven years.

Cisneros, a lumber mill worker, denied sexual contact when police interviewed him on Aug. 9.

Two days later an officer spoke with him again, and Cisneros acknowledged that one time about four years earlier, he “got really drunk” at a Sumas motel in the presence of the girl, and that it was “possible something could have happened.” But he said he could not remember. It had been a “dark time” for him, he recalled.

Police arrested Cisneros later that week.

Since then he has been held in Whatcom County Jail. Cisneros pleaded guilty in fall 2015 to two counts of solicitation to commit rape of a child in the first degree.

You did nothing to deserve this. You were a victim, and you are an incredible survivor, and your resilience is something I won’t forget.

Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis

The plea deal was reached, in large part, to avoid forcing the victim to testify at trial, said the deputy prosecutor, Jeffrey Sawyer.

“There was a great deal of relief on her face when she found out she wouldn’t have to testify,” Sawyer said.

At a sentencing hearing on Wednesday morning, the girl introduced herself to the Superior Court judge, Raquel Montoya-Lewis, in a voice too quiet to hear from the bench. The judge asked her to speak up, and the girl said her name again, a little louder. A victim’s advocate read a letter the girl had written, recounting the years of abuse.

“I’m not here to beg for revenge but for justice,” the letter began. “I was four years old when the sexual abuse started. I remember the first time.”

She came to believe it was normal, according to reports in the case file.

“He convinced me that what he was doing was for love,” the girl wrote.

As she got older she realized it was wrong and cruel, she said. She told friends about the abuse, and she started to stand up to Cisneros. Around that time the rapes stopped.

Cisneros had no felony convictions on his record, though he had been found guilty of misdemeanors: driving with a suspended license, driving under the influence, violating a no-contact order and assault in the fourth degree.

A risk assessment by the Department of Corrections notes that Cisneros’ wife had been 15 years old when he met her, at a motel where both were using and dealing drugs. He was 30. A few weeks after her 16th birthday, she gave birth to their first child. Their kids have since been removed from the home by Child Protective Services.

Cisneros made a brief statement Wednesday.

“I just want them” — the girl and her family — “to know that I’m sorry for what I’ve done,” Cisneros told the judge. “I’m taking full responsibility. I’m just glad that— I’m proud of her for standing up, and dealing with this, and I hope she can stay strong.”

Judge Montoya-Lewis said those statements would be “less than meaningless” if Cisneros did not work to prevent something like this from ever happening again. Before the hearing, the judge added, she had studied state law in search of a way to hand down a sterner sentence than the term suggested by the plea deal.

“Ten years,” Montoya-Lewis said, “seems like a drop in the bucket.”

But she could not find another option, she said. Montoya-Lewis gave Cisneros the maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

The judge addressed the girl.

“You did nothing to deserve this,” Montoya-Lewis told her. “You were a victim, and you are an incredible survivor, and your resilience is something I won’t forget.”

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb