David Cevallos

David Cevallos

POCATELLO — A 34-year-old local man whose felony sex crime case was quietly adjudicated because of a 2020 judicial order to seal was sentenced to 30 years in state prison on Wednesday.

David Cevallos, of Pocatello, was charged in May 2020 with felony first-degree kidnapping and felony lewd conduct with a child under 16 after police say he snuck a then 14-year-old girl out of her bedroom window and was caught with her while in the backseat of his fogged-up car that was parked in a dark construction site with the headlights off.

Chubbuck Police were dispatched to the area of Angela Street shortly after midnight on May 10, 2020, when a neighbor called to report seeing a vehicle back into a nearby construction site and turn off the headlights.

Upon arrival at the scene, the officer observed a man, later identified as Cevallos, crawling from the back seat to the front seat of the car while pulling up his pants, said police, adding that all of the vehicle’s windows were foggy.

The 14-year-old girl was located in the backseat of the car and was observed wearing a swimsuit bottom before grabbing a pair of panties from the rear floorboard, police said.

Initially, Cevallos identified himself as being 30 years old, though he was actually 32 at the time of the incident, police said. Cevallos exited the vehicle not wearing any shoes, but consistently denied ever engaging in any sexual acts with the child, police said. Cevallos admitted to kissing and hugging the girl while they were both lying down in the backseat of the vehicle, police added.

Cevallos was detained in the police car while officers continued to investigate the incident, which included interviewing the teenage girl, according to police reports.

The girl informed police that Cevallos had been a family friend for the past two years, having met her while serving as one of her religious leaders with a local Jehovah’s Witness church, police said. The girl was subsequently released to her parents and then taken to Portneuf Medical Center for a sexual assault examination, according to police reports. Her phone was also provided to police for a forensic analysis.

Police then searched the car, locating Cevallos’ shirt, shoes and underwear in the back seat, police said. Cevallos’ wife responded to the scene to take custody of the vehicle and was informed there was enough evidence to charge Cevallos with felony lewd conduct with a child.

Police responded to PMC later on May 10, 2020, to obtain the results of the sexual assault examination, during which a nurse informed them of statements the girl made while she was admitted, police said. The girl informed the nurse that Cevallos performed sex acts on her both earlier that evening and several times over the course of five days prior to the May 10 incident, police said. The girl would later participate in a forensic interview at a local child advocacy center, according to court records, though the information of that interview was not included in the police report.

Cevallos was then arrested and booked into the Bannock County Jail in Pocatello. In addition to the felony lewd conduct charge, Cevallos was charged with felony first-degree kidnapping. He was arraigned on May 11, 2020, during which his bond was set at $100,000. Cevallos posted the bond two days later and was released from jail.

Also on May 11, a former Bannock County deputy prosecutor filed a motion to seal the case, which was granted that same day. Cevallos’ name was not included on any local police arrest reports.

Cevallos pleaded guilty to the felony lewd conduct charge in November 2021 as part of a plea agreement with Bannock County prosecutors that involved the dismissal of the felony kidnapping charge. The plea agreement left the sentencing recommendations open.

The Idaho State Journal learned of Cevallos’ sentencing hearing on Wednesday and was present when the verdict was read. The Journal also petitioned the court to unseal the case on Wednesday and 6th District Judge Rick Carnaroli granted the request the same day. The police reports about the initial incident were obtained by the Journal on Thursday.

During the sentencing hearing, Cevallos appeared in court wearing a formal suit and glasses and sat next to his Pocatello attorney Stratton Laggis.

Laggis called both Cevallos’ wife and his therapist to provide the court with impact statements. His wife testified that since the incident occurred and Cevallos had been participating in therapy designed for sexual offenders she has “seen a tremendous growth in him, one that I couldn’t see five years ago.”

Cevallos’ therapist testified that he appeared very sad, broken and full of remorse when she first began treating him. She described him as being one of her most hard-working clients since treatment began in December 2020.

Before requesting Cevallos be placed on a unspecified length of felony probation with additional treatment mechanisms for sexual offenders and describing this occurrence as mistake and an isolated incident, Laggis explained to the judge that Cevallos will soon become a father.

“A child who grows up without a parent figure, specifically a father figure, you become a product of your environment at some point,” Laggis said. “If (Cevallos) is not there for his child, we feel very strongly that the absence of the father figure … has long lasting and potentially permanent downstream effects for his family, his child and for society as a whole.”

Bannock County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Erin Tognetti handled the case for the state. She had two people provide victim impact statements, the teenage victim and her father.

The victim explained that at first she saw Cevallos as a big brother until he began getting touchy and seductive with her. She provided the court with a timeline of events that indicated Cevallos groomed her for over a year, buying her gifts and texting her to find out when her parents weren’t home so he could deliver them. Eventually the grooming behavior turned into sexual abuse when Cevallos showed the girl how to sneak out of her window and convinced her to leave her parent’s home while they were asleep, the teenager said.

The victim’s father testified to feeling a great sense of panic when he awoke to a call from a police officer informing him that Cevallos was found with his daughter. He said Cevallos was a good friend who betrayed their confidence to hurt their daughter. Additionally, he testified that the good deeds Cevallos did as a member of their congregation was simply just an act to become closer to their underage daughter.

Tognetti described Cevallos as intelligent and manipulative. She explained that it was a mistake for Cevallos to buy the girl gifts, to text her and find out when her parents weren’t home and to show her how to escape through her window. But soliciting an underage girl for sex was not a mistake, Tognetti said, it was a crime. She requested the judge impose a 35-year prison sentence of which at least 15 of those years should be mandatory and that anything less would diminish the seriousness of the crime.

Cevallos also addressed the court, explaining to the judge that he has changed because of the sexual offender therapy he has received. He said he wished he could take back the pain and suffering of the family, adding that because he is now expecting a child he “can only imagine how a parent feels in wanting to protect their child.” He also vowed to never harming another person ever again.

Before handing down the sentence, Judge Carnaroli paused for a long moment before explaining that he lost sleep the night before thinking about the case. Carnaroli said he frequently gets defendants who request a sentence of probation believing that it is already a forgone conclusion they will avoid spending time in prison.

Carnaroli explained that he is obligated to not only protect society, but to contemplate the risks of attempting to rehabilitate a defendant with probation and treatment. He said he is also obligated to decide if a sentence of probation would be enough of a deterrent to prevent Cevallos from reoffending, and lastly, whether or not the punishment will serve as enough retribution for the impact on the victim.

Carnaroli explained there has been lots of discussion about whether a sentence levied against one person will deter others from committing a similar crime, adding that “if there are many slap-on-the-wrist sentences in the perspective of the public, it’s probably not much of a deterrence if I give you a slap on the wrist.”

Carnaroli then imposed a 30-year prison sentence against Cevallos, ordering that he must serve at least 14 years incarcerated before being eligible for parole. He is also told Cevallos that conceiving a child while facing felony lewd conduct charges, which carries a maximum penalty of up to life in prison, was potentially another mistake he made throughout this process.

Cevallos and his wife became emotional as he was handcuffed and remanded back into the custody of the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office to await transport to an Idaho Department of Correction facility.

Both Tognetti and Laggis declined to comment further on the case following the hearing Wednesday.