EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — Instead of going to prison in a criminal case that concluded earlier this year, Hector Gonzalez was allowed to walk away on probation.
The sweetheart deal comes a decade after the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Gonzalez after police accused him of assaulting young girls.
"I was in awe with the plea deal," Valerie Montoya said.
Montoya is outraged at a 2019 plea deal offered to Gonzalez, a man who sexually assaulted her granddaughter who was just 4-years-old at the time.
"Why should this man get to ride off in to the sunset like he did nothing?"
Montoya cared for her granddaughter in her mother's absence, but she couldn't always be there.
Long work hours forced Montoya to rely on help from neighbors.
Gonzalez and his wife lived across the street and frequently volunteered to watch her granddaughter.
"If there were days I might be late from work, I would call Hector or Susan (Hector's wife) or text them and be like, 'I'm running late can you grab the kids?''
Montoya says Gonzalez and his wife were always willing to help out.
As time went on, Gonzalez was babysitting Valerie's granddaughter overnight and on weekends, all while his wife was reportedly away.
Red flags went up in Montoya's head after Gonzalez came over one day for a pool party.
"Hector grabbed my granddaughters hand and said, 'C'mon you're going to stay with me today.'" Montoya said. "My granddaughter had turned around and looked at me and had tears in her eyes,. That plays in my head over and over because I didn't know if the tears in her eyes were because she was leaving grandma's house, or was it because she was going to go over there and something bad was going to happen?"
The 4-year-old girl eventually broke her silence to her family and was taken to Memorial Hospital for a sexual assault kit test.
Arrest papers document months of molestation.
According to investigators, the abuse began in Sept. 2017 and continued through July of 2018 — just a couple of weeks before Gonzalez was arrested.
Looking back, Montoya says she missed several warning signs. She says Gonzalez would frequently buy her granddaughter clothes and gifts.
"I have an immense amount of guilt," Montoya said. "I think that I should have caught this and the red flags you talk about, I didn't see anything at that time and afterwards, I think of knowing she's across the street with him and I'm in my own house."
Gonzalez faced a total of five felony sexual assault charges and a misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact charge.
Instead of going to trial, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office offered Gonzalez a plea deal.
Gonzalez pleaded guilty to one felony sexual assault charge and the misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact charge in exchange for prosecutors dropping all other charges.
He accepted the deal and received a four-year probation sentence.
"People go to jail for far less than what this man did," Montoya said.
Since Gonzelz accepted the plea deal, two more of his alleged victims have come forward, claiming they too were molested by Gonzalez a decade ago. Both say the District Attorney's Office did nothing.
Mikayla Windley says Gonzalez molested her over a period of five years.
She says it started when she was just five years old. She eventually had the courage and strength to report it when she was 9.
"(Gonzalez) said, 'Do not tell anybody or I'll kill you and your family,'" Windley said.
Windley says Gonzalez would babysit her while her parents were out of town. Although she's a grown adult now, she's emotionally scarred for life.
"I'm paranoid about everything," she said. "Ever since all this has happened, I'm scared of him finding me, killing me, molesting me again. It's just changed who I am completely."
Another woman, Kassondra Madson, says Gonzalez began molesting her when she was four years old.
"After that, it carried on until I was maybe seven years old, and then it was actual rape," Madson said. "He took away my self-confidence and he took away my childhood really."
Madson and Windley said they both talked with police.
Back in 2009, Gonzalez was arrested on four counts of sexual assault on a child.
In 2011, the case was officially dismissed and closed at the request of the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office.
Court documents show the case was dropped in part because "more investigation was required," presumably to gather additional evidence.
So what happened?
District Attorney Dan May's spokesperson, Lee Richards, has avoided questions about the case.
"Mr. May is unavailable as he will be in trial for the next month or so," Richards said while responding to a request for comment.
Richards also did not respond when asked prior to the start of May's current trial whether May would be available to discuss the 2009 case against Gonzalez in December.
Madson and Windley have to live every day with memories of what happened more than a decade ago. They hope one day, justice will be served.
"I don't want to be portrayed as a victim. I am a survivor," Madson said.
As for Montoya, she sold her house and moved to a different part of El Paso County.
"We lived in our home for 15 years," Montoya said. "We had no intentions of ever moving, but at the end of the day, you can only rearrange your living room so many ways. You still have to go out that front door, and (Gonzalez' house across the street) has become that house."
After pleading guilty to sexually assaulting Montoya's granddaughter, Gonzalez sold his house and moved to New York.
According to court records, he'll remain on probation until 2023.
Madson and Windley hope by sharing their stories, more people will come forward and report sexual abuse.
If you're not comfortable reporting an assault to law enforcement, there are numerous agencies throughout Colorado (and nationwide) that specialize in helping people who have through traumatic experiences.
Here is a list of some of those resources:
This story was originally published by Eric Ross on KOAA in Colorado Springs, Colorado.