Small voice ‘very powerful’ in sex abuse case

WAILUKU – A 10-year-old boy was praised for his courage in reporting that he was being sexually molested, as his former foster parent was sentenced Friday to a 20-year prison term for sexual assaults on three boys.

The sexual molestations occurred from 2009 to 2011 during periods when Zack Morris had custody of the boys as their foster parent, said Deputy Prosecutor Kim Whitworth.

She said Morris, who moved from New York City to Maui in 2006, was familiar with the Child Protective Service system when he positioned himself to be a foster parent.

“He specifically targeted troubled and special-needs children because he claimed he wanted to give them a loving and supportive environment,” Whitworth said. “He knew how to choose the most vulnerable victims. He chose the children who lost hope.”

Morris, 33, who is also known as Florentino Rios, had pleaded no contest to four reduced counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of third-degree sexual assault.

As part of his plea agreement, the prosecution recommended the 20-year prison term.

“He wanted to accept this plea agreement to take responsibility for what happened,” said Morris’ attorney Ben Herren. “He doesn’t agree with everything that he’s been accused of, but he accepts responsibility. It’s a significant sentence.”

Speaking in court Friday, Morris said, “We treat the problem instead of address it. Love is the answer to everything.”

Whitworth said Morris “did not state one ounce of responsibility, remorse or apology.”

“But that’s expected,” she said. “Because all he thinks about is I, I, I, and lie, lie, lie.”

She said one boy was victimized after he was placed with Morris in March 2009 after being kicked out of other foster homes.

Whitworth said Morris “groomed” the boy, giving him shots of tequila until he passed out, then sexually molesting him. The boy woke up with Morris on top of him, Whitworth said.

Later, when the boy tried to run away, Morris had him arrested for assault, Whitworth said.

She said the boy didn’t report what happened right away.

“The system had failed him,” she said. “He was shocked that the very people that were supposed to protect him placed him with the defendant. Morris told this child, ‘I have done this before. There’s no way anyone will take your word over mine because you are a kid who gets in trouble.’ “

The mother of the boy, who is now an adult, said that he has nightmares and mood swings.

“If I could turn back time, I would have never put him in voluntary foster custody, and I will never forgive myself for that,” she said in court.

She said that her son was sent to a detention center “where he was punished even more for doing what any child should do when a pedophile tries to touch him or make him do something.”

“Look at me,” the mother said to Morris, who had his head turned down. “My son will never be the same because of what happened.”

After victimizing the boy, Morris applied to Child Protective Services to be foster parent to two boys whose mother was a single parent with substance abuse issues, Whitworth said.

She said that the older brother was 15 when Morris began sexually molesting the child a week after getting custody of him in 2010. Morris also used intimidation and violence on the boy, Whitworth said.

The following year, she said, Morris began improperly touching the younger brother, who was 10 years old. The boy told his older brother, his counselor and then police what happened, Whitworth said. She said that prompted a police investigation.

“From the courageous voice of a 10-year-old boy, others felt the strength to come forward and be heard,” Whitworth said. “One small voice was very powerful.”

In sentencing Morris to consecutive prison terms totaling 20 years, 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo said Morris needed to start “facing the consequences of your horrendous actions as a child rapist.”

“This is not about love,” she told Morris. “You don’t love these children. You love yourself. It’s all about you.

“Today it’s not about you. Today is about these very brave, young boys who had the guts to come forward.

“I’m so proud of them. If not, your history of raping them would continue for I don’t know how long.”

Loo said it was her hope that the parole board would require Morris to be incarcerated for the entire 20-year prison term.

“In some countries, you steal, they cut off your hands,” Loo said to Morris. “What do you think they would do to you if you were in that country? Here we’re civilized.

“The worse thing is you are in complete denial. You feel no remorse for these children.

“You took every, every advantage of them.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at