By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
In an Orange County courtroom this month, a 20-year-old college student sat on the witness stand, answered questions nobody ever wants to hear, and avoided the stare of the defendant, her father.
What does a man do when he's accused of molesting his daughter over a period of several years? Mission Viejo's 48-year-old Lester Allen Yocum squirmed in his seat, occasionally wiped moist eyes, but remained silent during the two-week trial. Yocum—described in court as "a Mr. Mom" because he was often unemployed and relied on his wife's income—pleaded not guilty.
According to court testimony, Yocum fondled his daughter's vagina, sometimes as she watched television, with her younger brother sitting unaware nearby; shaved her pubic hairs when she was an adolescent; orally copulated the girl when her mother was running errands; told her to massage his buttocks in the shower; and enticed her to masturbate him.
The acts began when the girl was eight years old and ended during her sophomore year in high school. She claimed the molestations sometimes occurred more than three times per month as she grew older.
"I remember once I was in the bathroom naked, getting ready for a shower when he came in, and I think he was already erect," Yocum's daughter testified. "He pulled down his shorts and rubbed the head of his penis against my vagina. There was wetness coming out. I was really scared, and he sensed it. He said not to worry because he wasn't going to go inside me. I told him to stop."
It wasn't until the girl's freshman year in college that she says she found the courage to confront her father. According to the daughter, Yocum responded, "'Why tell now?' I said I just wanted to start my life with a new slate. He said he'd deny everything if the police were called."
Undeterred, the girl contacted authorities in early 2003. By then, it appears, Yocum had already blown his defense. In a subsequent e-mail, he told his daughter he was "sorry for making your life a living hell." In another, he begged her to remember him "as the good dad and not the sick one."
But the sick one didn't want to go to jail. And so defense lawyer Kristine M. Burk told jurors "there may be a kernel of truth" in the girl's stories but "there's insufficient proof" against a "person who loved his family."
Burk argued that Yocum was a victim of a deceitful lesbian daughter who attended feminist-group events and, in a political frenzy, fabricated the sex crimes. The girl's motive? Revenge against a morally conservative father who hated homosexuality and had threatened to stop paying her college tuition if she continued to date women.
"She wanted to drive a stake in his heart," the defense lawyer said.
Burk also tried to catch the girl, who is gay, off guard in a disturbing rapid-fire exchange: Anything unusual about your father's genitals? No. Circumcised? Yes. Birthmark? Not that I remember. Scars? I don't know. Is your father's penis the first one you ever saw? Yes.
Prosecutor Beth Costello didn't dispute that Yocum was anti-gay or that the girl was frustrated by her father's stance. Law-enforcement officers believed the revenge theory was a ruse to drive a wedge between the jury and the victim. After all, Orange County isn't the most hospitable place for gays and lesbians seeking justice. In 2000, for example, a California appeals court ordered judges here to stop systematic discrimination against gay jurors.
But the gay-revenge theory began collapsing after the girl's anguished mother, Betty, testified. "He told me himself it wasn't really bad because there hadn't been any penetration," said Mrs. Yocum, who has filed for divorce. "He said he believed [their daughter] had opened the door and welcomed him to it. . . . I told him to move out immediately."
More devastating than that testimony was the prosecution's star witness: Yocum himself.
Deputy DA Costello played a recording of a police-inspired April 2003 phone conversation between the girl and her father. During the call, an initially suspicious Yocum seemingly admitted and then rationalized molesting his daughter.
Here's a partial transcript:
How's it going?
Good, how are you?
I'm all right, just stressed . . . kind of bothered about things. I want to talk to you about rebuilding.
I want to talk to you about it and put it behind us. I'm depressed.
How come? You've got the weight of the world off your shoulders. There shouldn't be anything else bothering you.
All the things you've done to me in the past, I can't get everything out of my mind—the touching me in the bonus room. You know what I'm talking about.
The bonus room. You know the oral sex that happened, Dad. I've been going to a counselor. She brought it up with me.
Yeah. [Long pause] I'd love to talk to you. [He asks when she is coming home next.] What's disturbing you?
Remember the last time we talked?
Gosh. I, uh . . . I'm uh . . . I'm really afraid of you. I'm afraid right now that Mom and I started having problems and you're going to do something.
You're afraid I'm going to go to the police?
I'm afraid you're recording everything. Do you understand that?
I don't think you have anything to worry about. My counselor said I should talk to you.
That's fine, but like I said, I'm afraid to say anything. You said you didn't want to do anything. It's hard on you. It's hard on me. It's hard on Betty. I don't know what to do other than to say, "Hey, let's try to get through it and talk." Tell me what's bothering you.
The abuse started when I was little. You said you only remembered the night in the bonus room [when the girl turned 16 years old].
We were talking about two different things. You asked me when was the first time.
You're saying the first time you went down on me?
I'm talking about you touching me down there.
Okay. We always touched each other [pause], and I'm not talking about anything sexual.
The massages are not a problem? You touched me inside my pants!
What happened was . . . I . . . really want to talk to you in person.
Again, I don't want to keep you estranged. Do you understand that?
I want to repair our relationship, but I'm afraid I just can't be as open as you want me to be over the phone.
I'm depressed and worried about what's gone on. Are you sorry for all the stuff that's happened?
Yes, I'm terribly sorry that everything's happened.
Everything. I'm sorry that we couldn't have a relationship. [He says his wife ruined their bond.] Basically, she wanted me to play bad cop all the time. It's the parental role I thought I needed to play. I have a misplaced need for your love and affection.
Like eating me out, Dad?
I'm sorry. That was out of line.
I really never had any parents. Nobody was ever close to me, and when you pulled away, it ate at me. I thought that it was something you liked for us to do.
You honestly thought I liked it, Dad, when you ate me out?
It's . . . [Silence]
Yeah, I can't answer you.
You can't? When you say you think I liked it, that's dishonest.
Yeah, later on, you didn't, but earlier, I had this fantasy or feeling this was our only bond. I still don't understand everything. If I had to do it all over again, I'd take it back. I had . . . no control over it at the time, and that's what I'm trying to figure out. I want to get better and try to help you. So why are you crying?
It's really hard.
Yocum finished by happily steering the conversation from molestation to television shows and movies. He ended the conversation by turning their relationship on its head—telling his daughter, "I don't have any animosity"—and then signed off, "Good luck on finals. Love you."
Following the tape bombshell, jurors looked exhausted. One woman slowly shook her head. A red-faced older man stared at the defendant, who quickly gulped half a bottle of water.
Later, during a break, Yocum huddled with his mother in the hallway. He remained upbeat. "There are two different ways for them to interpret the tape," he said.
In her closing argument, Burk argued that the taped conversation supported Yocum's story. So great was his love for his daughter, she said, that "he apologized [for committing sex crimes] falsely," she said. "He wanted so desperately to have his family back together that he was willing to say . . . whatever."
The prosecutor's rebuttal was ferocious. Costello used one word for the defense argument—"ludicrous"—and three for Yocum—an "arrogant . . . conceited . . . idiot."
"He's probably convinced he did what he did out of love," said the veteran deputy DA before resting her case.
On Jan. 19, after barely more than two hours of deliberations, a jury of seven women and four men convicted Yocum. Superior Court Judge Richard M. King is scheduled to punish him on Feb. 7. The sentencing range is six to 17 years in state prison.
With the verdict in and the likelihood he'll have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life after prison, Yocum said nothing. A bailiff handcuffed him and led him to jail. His daughter, who remained so composed throughout the trial, sat in the back of the courtroom and sobbed.