Sexual molester of deaf girl sentenced to 18 months in jail

Punzalan

WAILUKU — A Kahului man is serving an 18-month jail term for sexually molesting a deaf girl who at first wasn’t believed when she told what a family member had done.

Enrique Punzalan, 56, was placed on five years’ probation as part of his sentence imposed March 10.

“This is a sad case today for this family,” said 2nd Circuit Judge Richard Bissen, who followed a plea agreement in sentencing Punzalan. “It was all put in place by the person that the family at one time looked up to. It looks like some of them still do.” Punzalan had pleaded no contest to second-degree sexual assault and second-degree endangering the welfare of a minor. The offenses occurred from June 2005 to June 2008 and last April, according to court records.

Deputy Prosecutor Iwalani Gasmen said that the girl wasn’t able to be in court for Punzalan’s sentencing.

“It was going to be simply too painful to appear before the defendant,” Gasmen said.

But she said that the girl provided a videotaped statement that “speaks volumes as to how the defendant’s actions have affected and changed the victim’s life pretty much forever.”

She said the sexual assaults began when the girl was 5 or 6 years old.

“No one in her family took time to learn sign language” to communicate with the girl, Gasmen said.

“No one in her family believed her” when she was able to tell what Punzalan had done to her, Gasmen said.

Instead of supporting the girl, Punzalan “caused her further pain, trauma and unnecessary emotional harm,” Gasmen said.

She said that the girl supported a plea agreement between the prosecution and defense recommending the jail term and probation for Punzalan.

“These actions are not excusable,” Gasmen said. “Hopefully, the defendant will be able to realize and truly, truly take responsibility for his actions.”

Defense attorney Cary Virtue said that Punzalan wanted to resolve the case and was already participating in sex offender treatment.

“To his credit, he has been doing the difficult work of trying to deal with his issues through sex offender counseling,” Virtue said.

In court, Punzalan said, “I’m sorry for what I have done.”

When Bissen asked if Punzalan had told the girl that, Virtue said Punzalan had been ordered not to contact her.

Gasmen said that the victim “doesn’t want to have anything to do with the defendant.”

Referring to family members in the courtroom gallery to support Punzalan, Bissen said, “I was just wondering where the support is for the victim.”

“She’s the one who really deserved and needed the support,” the judge said.

“I can’t imagine what that would be like for someone who is deaf to be violated this way and not be able to tell anybody. That seems quite tragic, and I think he knew that. He picked the perfect victim. Eventually, when she could tell, she wasn’t even believed.”

“But there are those who believe her and now they really believe her, now that the defendant has stopped his conduct and he’s exposed for the child molester that he is,” Bissen said.

In addition to having no contact with the victim, Punzalan was ordered to have no contact with minor children and not to live in the same residence as minor children unless he has permission from his probation officer.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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