Crime and Courts

Former San Ysidro church choir leader sentenced for child sex abuse of 15-year-old girl

In addition to the two-year prison term, Magana is required to register as a sex offender.

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A former San Ysidro church choir group leader who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl who was a member of the choir was sentenced this week to two years in state prison.

Rafael Magana, 28, who was a choir group leader at Victory Outreach Church, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of lewd acts on a child on Nov. 6, 2021. He was ordered to register as a sex offender at his sentencing Tuesday.

San Diego police said Magana, who was 25 years old at the time, drove the girl to and from a baby shower that day. After the baby shower, police said Magana drove the girl to the Paradise Hills neighborhood where he parked the car on Reo Drive, sexually assaulted her in the car, then drove the girl home.

The victim did not report the assault to police until March of last year due to what police described as "a confluence of factors." Magana was arrested last August.

At Magana's sentencing hearing, Deputy District Attorney Zachary Wallace asked for the maximum possible term of three years in prison, citing the "extreme emotional and psychological trauma that Mr. Magana inflicted" on the victim.

The prosecutor also argued Magana took advantage of the girl through his position as the victim's choir group leader and said Magana has a prior conviction in juvenile court for lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14, which occurred when he was 15 years old.

The victim, who is now 18 years old, said in court that she "suffered in silence" in the years following what happened.

"On the night of Nov. 6, my life would change forever," she said. "My innocence was stolen from me that night. That night would be the first of many that I would question who I am and my self-worth."

Earlier this month, prosecutors also charged the church's pastor, Eric Manuel Merino, with allegedly failing to notify police or child welfare services about the abuse after it was reported to him, in violation of his duty as a legally mandated reporter.

Prosecutors have not said exactly how the abuse was reported to Merino, but a San Diego County District Attorney's Office spokeswoman said Merino was told Magana had committed the abuse.

According to the DA's Office, California law requires people in certain professions to report such incidents and failure to do so can result in criminal penalties.

Merino faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.

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