Former Napa softball coach found guilty of felony child abuse

A Napa County Superior Court jury found Joseph Angel Ortiz, a former part-time softball coach and Napa resident, guilty of 51 counts of child sexual abuse Wednesday.

The jury of six women and six men reached the verdict after less than a day of deliberation following a six-day trial.

Ortiz was found guilty of 45 counts of felony child abuse and six counts of misdemeanor child abuse. He faces a maximum of four 25-life terms, one for each victim under 14. District Attorney Gary Lieberstein said. Bail was set at $2 million. He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 8.

Ortiz, 37, was arrested on July 3, 2014 on suspicion of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy from 1998 through 2000, when Ortiz was working as an assistant coach at Shearer Elementary School in Napa. After the initial allegations, five other supposed victims came forward to say they had been abused by Ortiz.

“Mr. Ortiz was an opportunist,” assistant district attorney Agnes Dziadur told the jury. “He molested these kids when he had the chance to do so. When he denies that, he is being very disingenuous and untruthful.”

Ortiz sexually abused children under a variety of pretenses, including “wrestling practice,” play acting, and physical therapy for sports injuries, the prosecution said. Ortiz also kept photos of the children, many of them in sexual situations, in a storage unit in Napa.

Speaking after the verdict, Lieberstein said Ortiz abused Nick Doe continuously between 1998 and 2000, starting when the victim was in sixth grade. In 2011, police investigated a potential case against Ortiz, but the case was never sent to the DA’s office for prosecution, Lieberstein said.

In 2013 a second case was sent to his office involving a second alleged victim. At this point, the investigation opened up and other alleged victims came forward.

According to Dziadur, Ortiz had a “foot fetish,” and liked to pin children back so he could smell or massage their feet while “dry humping,” a practice that was cited by every one of the victims.

“This was this man’s MO, so that’s what he did to all these kids,” Dziadur said in court. He also had “thousands of images of feet, interspersed with pornography,” on his phone and in the storage unit.

 Ortiz’s public defender, Mervin Lernhart, argued that all of the alleged abuse could have occurred in the context of sports practice or friendly play. He also said Ortiz had been friends with some of the young people for years before the abuse, and that it took over a decade for it to be reported.

“I found it strange that it wasn’t reported for some 10 years,” Lernhart said.

Parents of some of the victims said during a court recess that they had known about the abuse, but initially decided to confront Ortiz and ask him to “get help,” because the children liked Ortiz as a friend, and they believed he would not abuse them again.

The parents said that Ortiz was “a charmer” who was able to keep the affection of parents and children even after the abuse.

Lieberstein and Dziadur said that this is common in child sex abuse cases.

“They’re often very likable, very charismatic,” Lieberstein said of child molesters. “They may even seem normal to the parents.”