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Lawyer: Suspect in 9-year-old niece’s molestation was sleeping at the time

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POSTED June 17, 2014 7:26 p.m.

MARTINEZ  (AP) — The attorney for a Northern California man accused of molesting his 9-year-old niece says his client was asleep at the time.

Ralph Dell’s attorney, Ernest Castillo, told jurors during Dell’s trial on Monday that what happened to the girl is not in dispute. But he said it was the result of Dell’s history of unwanted behavior during sleep, the Contra Costa Times reported.

Dell, 35, of Pacheco, is charged with sexual penetration of a child and lewd and lascivious acts in connection with the April 2012 incident. According to Contra Costa County prosecutors, Dell rubbed the girl’s back before slipping his hand in her underwear. She and Dell’s daughter were having a sleepover and were in a common room together watching TV.

Castillo said Dell woke up after he touched his niece, told her what he had done was inappropriate and left the room.

“He woke up to the most gut-wrenching moment of his life,” Castillo said. “He was startled and confused, didn’t understand what happened or how it happened. He began to freak out.”

Castillo said he plans to call a medical expert to explain the neurological science behind unwanted behavior while asleep and witnesses who will testify to Dell’s history of such behavior.

Prosecutors dispute Castillo’s defense and say the case is one of straightforward sexual abuse.

The victim, now 11, testified on Monday that she began to tear up when the touching began. The girl said Dell asked her whether what he was doing hurt.

During cross-examination, she said Dell looked surprised at what he had done a few moments later.

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