A former foster father, once licensed by the state to take care of abused and neglected children in Anchorage, will go to prison for sexually abusing the girls he was supposed to protect.
Jose Morales, 42, pleaded guilty in March to two felony counts of sexual abuse of a minor. One of the charges involved molesting two girls and the other involved one.
On Thursday, in a courtroom packed with family and friends supporting Morales, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth sentenced him to six years in prison and five years of probation for the abuse. Morales told the judge he didn't want to say anything in his own defense.
Before the hearing started, his wife, Wendy, said her husband only pleaded guilty because the family had already spent $80,000 on the case and was out of money. Their friends and family prayed aloud for Wendy, who seemed agitated and spoke with clenched fists.
"Lord, in Jesus name, may you help us to calm down," one woman prayed as people bowed their heads and put their arms around each other. "Help us not to bring shame on your name. Help Wendy."
At one point, a niece handed her newborn baby to Jose Morales. He's a tall, heavy man with graying hair and a mustache. He cuddled the tiny child.
"We love you Jose!" someone called out. "Yes we do!" another echoed.
Things quieted down when the judge entered the courtroom.
Just one of the victims came to the hearing, accompanied by her father and her fiance. She was shaking and nervous and chose not to speak when the judge asked if any of the victims wished to.
Prosecutor Trina Sears told Aarseth that Morales' position of trust made the case especially serious. Six years in prison is "a fairly significant sentence," she said. She acknowledged he could have gotten more if the matter had gone to trial. But the victims were reluctant to testify and didn't want to get Morales in trouble.
"They liked him and they cared for him," Sears said. "Yet what happened is what happened."
Defense attorney Eric Derleth told the judge that Morales accepted responsibility for what he did.
"He'll be in jail for a long time and on probation for a long time," Derleth said.
The judge told Morales that he will have to register as a sex offender for life.
Before Alaska State Troopers handcuffed Morales and took him away, he hugged and kissed his wife and hugged others in the courtroom too.
The state licensed the Moraleses in 2001 to provide emergency care for children. They eventually were approved to care for up to six foster children at once.
The first girl was abused in 2003 and incidents with her and others continued until authorities were alerted in 2005, a police complaint filed in 2006 said. The abuse included "games" that involved pinching or hitting girls on their breasts or hitting them on their buttocks, sometimes as he wrestled them, the complaint said.
Morales eventually was indicted on charges of touching six foster girls over several years and on charges of having sex with one of them, but most of the charges, including the most serious counts, were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
The state Office of Children's Service first received a report of sexual abuse against Morales in October 2005. The six foster children in the home at that point were removed right away, according to OCS. The couple then gave up their foster care license.
Leaving the courtroom Thursday, Wendy Morales said she had a word of advice: "Don't ever be a foster parent."
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER