The Pine Cone's third story of the week

Previous Home Next

Stern judge gives Pollacci the max

By PAUL MILLER

Published: June 25, 2010

NOMINALLY, FRIDAY’S proceedings in a Salinas courtroom were about sentencing Tom Pollacci for his first rape conviction.

Last month, a jury concluded Pollacci raped a Colorado woman, referred to as Jane Doe 5, at his family’s Pacific Grove liquor store in April 2008.

But the man who has long been known as an alleged rapist in his home community also had his entire life on trial. And the verdict was: Pollacci should be put away for as long as possible.

“Mr. Pollacci has a well known, long lasting and enduring reputation as a rapist,” said Monterey County Superior Court Judge Russell Scott before pronouncing the sentence.

In deciding whether to put Pollacci on probation or send him to prison — and if prison, for how long — Scott was allowed by state law consider not only the circumstances of the immediate conviction, but what the law calls “aggravating factors.”

And Scott said there were plenty of those.

“He has engaged in conduct that indicates a serious danger to society,” Scott said. “He is an individual who preys on women, is eager and willing to control and destroy their lives and the lives of people close to them without a thought and on an impulse.”

Scott also said Pollacci showed a great deal of “sophistication” and forethought in planning his attacks. And he quoted a letter from a woman who said she was one of Pollacci’s earlier victims.

“He has no reason to live a productive life due to his family, who is willing to take care of him,” wrote the woman, whose name was not disclosed. “Instead, he has mastered the art of controlling others. This man has ruined the lives of so many.”

Speaking directly to Pollacci, 50, who was seated at the defense table in shackles, Scott expressed his belief that, “your past victims may be able to rest a little easier with the satisfaction that you will be removed from this community.”

And then Scott sentenced Pollacci to eight years in state prison. He could be eligible for parole after serving four years, but he could also be sentenced to an additional 24 years if convicted on three more rape charges filed by prosecutors in May. A preliminary hearing on those charges is scheduled for July 16.

Defense strategies

At the beginning of Friday’s proceedings, defense attorney Andrew Liu asked Scott to order a new trial. The judge erred in letting past alleged victims of Pollacci’s testify, Liu argued, and also in allowing the jury convict him of rape without agreeing how the rape happened — whether by force, because the victim was drugged, or because she was too drunk to understand what was happening.

“This case was always partly about Pollacci’s reputation, and that’s not the kind of justice we expect from our court system,” Liu told reporters.

But prosecutor Michael Breeden said the judge “made no error at all” in his handling of the trial.

Verdicts in rape trials, Breeden said, are similar to those in murder trials, in that state law allows them to be based on a jury’s belief that a crime happened, “even if they’re not unanimous about how it happened.”

Scott rejected the motion for a new trial, calling Pollacci’s crimes “unique” and saying his elaborate preparation of a “bachelor pad” in a loft space above the sales area at Ron’s Liquors in Pacific Grove made it clear that “he intended to rape Jane Doe 5” when he lured her to the loft with “compliments and promises of a good deal on a bottle of wine.” However Pollacci accomplished it, the jury’s conclusion that a rape occurred was sufficient, Scott said.

Next, Liu asked Scott to delay sentencing, because the public defender who will handle Pollacci’s next trial wanted his sentence for raping Jane Doe 5 to be part of plea negotiations on the latest charges.

But Scott rejected that maneuver as well, saying, “It’s very important that we get this done.”

Finally, Liu asked Scott to impose a lesser sentence than the eight-year maximum for a first rape conviction.

“The facts in this case are much less than initially argued, and much less than presented in the media,” Liu said. He pointed out that Jane Doe 5 voluntarily met up with Pollacci at the liquor store the night of the attack and that there was no evidence she had been drugged. And he claimed the injuries she suffered that night were caused by a fall and weren’t “life threatening.”

Liu conceded that “the voice of public opinion is loudly against Tom Pollacci, and many despise him,” but also said, “There are many who don’t … who see another side of Tom Pollacci.” And he told Scott that sentencing “had to be based on the evidence,” not on the accused’s bad reputation.

‘Irrevocably altered’

But Breeden asked Scott to consider not only the facts of the case that led to Pollacci’s conviction and his extensive history of sexual assaults, but also the terrible psychological damage done to his victims.

“He takes from them and their families a lifetime of security,” Breeden said. “Their lives are irrevocably altered, just to satisfy his gratification.”

Pollacci has shown “no remorse,” Breeden claimed, and would be a serious danger to other women if he were released on probation.

“The purpose of sentencing is to protect the public, and in this case, the public is begging the court to incarcerate the defendant for a long as possible,” the prosecutor said.

Scott, who handled the hearing professionally but with grim determination, sided with prosecutors on almost every issue. In addition to spending eight years in prison, he ordered Pollacci to pay restitution to Jane Doe 5.

Dressed in an orange and white jail jumpsuit, Pollacci also wore a bright green wristband that identified him a sex offender. His face showed no signs of injuries from a beating he reportedly suffered at the hands of other inmates the day before, and he didn’t seem to react when the sentence was announced. But outside the courtroom, while he was being loaded into a sheriff’s office van for a trip back to the county jail, he smiled at a news photographer.