Cerritos granted new trial in child sex assault case, released from prison

Santos Cerritos

NASHUA – Citing a defense attorney’s missteps that included a failure to consult forensic experts and settling on a “reasonable doubt” strategy without considering the possibility of challenging the prosecution’s forensic evidence, a Superior Court judge has ordered a new trial for Santos Cerritos, roughly two years after he was convicted and sent to prison.

Judge Charles Temple on Thursday also granted Cerritos’ motion he be released from prison pending the new trial, and agreed to rescind the guilty verdicts the jury delivered in early February 2017 on the two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault (AFSA) with which Cerritos was charged.

Also vacated pending a new trial is the 2017 sentencing order that required Cerritos register as a sex offender for life.

In April 2017, roughly two months after the jury convicted him, Cerritos was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in State Prison at a lengthy, emotional hearing that the alleged victim, age 6 at the time, not only attended, but addressed the court as well.

Cerritos, now 55 and a resident of Manchester, was friendly with the alleged victim’s parents, who hired him to do some renovations to their home. Shortly after he began the work, according to court documents, the girl brought forth allegations to her parents that Cerritos had sexually molested her.

He was arrested in September 2014, and indicted on the two AFSA charges two months later.

Temple, the judge, granted Cerritos’ new-trial request in a 14-page order, in which he concluded attorney Adam Bernstein’s “deficient performance actually prejudiced the outcome of (Cerritos’) trial.”

Temple wrote that Bernstein’s “understanding of the forensic evidence was flawed,” and his decision to not consult with professionals contributed to Temple’s finding that Bernstein’s missteps met the standard for ineffective representation of counsel.

Prosecutors objected to Cerritos’ motion for a new trial, as they also did to his ultimately successful request to be released from prison pending the new trial.

Cerritos “should not be released for a couple of reasons,” First Assistant County Attorney Kent Smith told the court. “One, he’s a danger to the community … the family is extremely worried about the risk he poses,” Smith said, referring to the family of the alleged victim.

“Also, he presents a flight risk because he knows he could go back to prison” if he’s convicted at his second trial, Smith added.

However, Jeff Odlund, a public defender now representing Cerritos, said his client would be willing to sign a waiver of extradition and abide by other terms the court may impose, such as continuing the order that he have no unsupervised contact with children under age 16.

Regarding the state’s allegations Cerritos would present a danger if freed from prison, Odlund disagreed.

“There is ample evidence he’s not a danger. He’s had no issues that would cause his bail to be revoked. And he has no (criminal) history before this,” Odlund said.

Temple agreed.

“I have no basis on which to find you present a danger,” he told Cerritos. “Obviously, I remain concerned about the allegations, and for the alleged victim, but it’s also clear to me that you haven’t violated the order,” Temple said, referring to the order that prohibits Cerritos from having any contact with the girl or her family.

The judge set the next hearing in Cerritos’s case for May 23 in the Nashua court.

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com, or @Telegraph_DeanS.