Sheila Marie Sikat volunteered to babysit her sister's four-year-old daughter, used Rohypnol to knock the girl out and videotaped her husband, David Hwang, while he molested and sodomized the child on several occasions.
In their upscale Rancho Santa Margarita home, the Sikat couple converted alleged babysitting chores into a child rape and kiddie pornography operation that resulted in more than 50 recordings involving girls ranging in ages from eight months to eight years before fate alerted sheriff's deputies to the collection in 2003.
To keep the hope of potential freedom decades from now instead of a life without the possibility of parole sentence, Hwang pleaded guilty for a term of 50 years to life.
Sikat went to trial with hopes an Orange County jury would believe she'd been a victim too. Hwang threatened her with violence to participate and keep quiet, she claimed.
But the videos didn't help her cause. She had enthusiastic sex with her husband in plain view of the little girl being molested. At one point, she said, "Stick it in her butt." And, of course, she held the camera during the abuse that included sticking a pen inside an infant's rectum, and is seen observing the rapes without the slightest protest. The couple also can be heard discussing if the drug had knocked out victims.
Eight years after her trial, Sikat has found the object of her anger and it's not Hwang or herself. It's Superior Court Judge Gary Paer. In 2008, Paer sentenced the rapist to a term of 50 years to life and couldn't believe that the defendant's family, including the mother of one of the victims, wanted her released from custody without a day in prison.
I recall the shock on Paer's face. He mentioned that commenters on related newspaper articles wanted the death penalty. The judge also said the graphic video evidence against her required a severe punishment.
Beginning in 2011, Sikat complained to federal judges that Paer violated her right to a fair sentencing because he'd become biased by reading news coverage.
"The trial court admitted on the record that it had reviewed outside sources such as news reports, blog commentaries and information from the Internet prior to arriving at its sentencing decision," she wrote. "Upon which it based its decision without giving petitioner a chance to view said evidence."
In her mind, the judge's transgression means her convictions should be overturned.
This month, U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal accepted a magistrate judge's report concluding that the complaint is legally baseless and closed the case.
(In a prior request, she asked an unwilling California Court of Appeal panel to conclude that anti-child porn laws couldn't have been violated because the unconscious victims didn't pose, a necessary legal requirement she claimed hadn't been met.)
Upshot: Sikat, 35, will continue to serve her punishment inside the Central California Women's Facility at Chowchilla.
Hwang, 43, resides in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.