1. Archive

Man gets life for raping girl, 7

A Wesley Chapel man was found guilty Wednesday of capital sexual battery and sentenced to life in prison for raping a 7-year-old girl.

Mario Ponce, 43, had met the girl through her grandmother, whom he knew from church, according to testimony at his four-day jury trial in Dade City.

He was on probation for an unrelated sexual battery on a 10-year-old girl in Hillsborough County when he raped the Pasco youngster two years ago.

Ponce had pleaded guilty to a lesser offense in the Hillsborough case, and one of his probation conditions was that he not have contact with children younger than 16.

According to testimony in the Pasco trial, Ponce went to the grandmother's house and asked if he could take the girl and her two brothers with him to another home to wash his car. The grandmother didn't want him to do that.

She left the room when a 1-year-old child in another room began to cry. Ponce then got the three other children to leave with him.

"I can't tell you if the car got washed, but I can tell you that some very bad things happened" to the girl, Assistant State Attorney Matt Destry said during the trial.

The girl went to use the bathroom at the home and Ponce followed her. After he raped her, he took her and her brothers home.

"Fortunately, the grandmother sensed that something had happened and began to question (the girl)," Destry said.

Experts testified that DNA taken from semen found in the girl's underpants matched DNA taken from Ponce's blood.

According to testimony, Ponce told detectives "he really wasn't a bad guy, he was just mixed up and needed help."

He also claimed that he saw the girl leave the bathroom with her shorts and underpants pulled down and that he couldn't remember what happened.