On the morning testimony was to begin in his trial, a former nursery volunteer for St. John the Apostle Catholic Church instead pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child in exchange for a 30-year prison sentence.
Frank Garcia, 68, of Colleyville, is not eligible for parole.
“He will be at least 96 years old when he is done serving his sentence,” said prosecutor Cami Gildner. “It was a privilege to be able to provide justice and closure to the victims and their families.”
Three girls had made outcries that Garcia, a volunteer in the church’s nursery, had sexually abused them.
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The allegations stem from incidents that happened in 2008 and 2009 when the victims were between 4 and 7 years old, North Richland Hills police have previously police said. Two of the offenses happened in North Richland Hills and one in Colleyville.
The abuse came to light in 2016, prompting an investigation by North Richland Hills police. The Diocese of Fort Worth also alerted the congregation. Garcia was arrested in January 2017.
A jury had been selected Monday but on Tuesday morning, upon arriving at the courthouse from the Green Bay jail, where he had been held without bond, Garcia indicated to prosecutors through his defense attorney, Alex Tandy, that he was interested in a plea deal.
After conferring with the victims, Gildner and fellow prosecutor Jordan Rolfe agreed to the 30-year plea deal.
After being sentenced by State District Judge Chris Wolfe, all three of Garcia’s victims and some of their parents took the stand to address the man they’d once trusted.
“I was scared my whole life to talk about this. It was embarrassing,” one of the victims, now 14, told Garcia. “I came in here scared but I was ready to testify. And the fact that you pled guilty, I feel powerful because now I know that you can’t hurt anybody else.”
Like many others who would address Garcia after her, the girl ended by telling Garcia that she forgave him.
“Although you caused me to be scared of my own father, I forgive you,” she told him.
Another of the victims, Garcia’s own goddaughter, said she, too, is afraid of men because of what he did to her. She said she feels bad for his wife.
“You’re not just hurting me. You’re hurting her and your kids,” the teen told Garcia. “You’re leaving them because you chose to do this to us.”
The teen said she endured people hating her and telling her that the abuse was her fault. She said she believed it until last year.
“I told myself it’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything. I had the courage to say something.”
The girl’s mother also addressed Garcia, recalling how she had been so intent to initially believe Garcia over her own daughter.
“I believed in your word,” she said.
“It hurts me to see that her childhood is lost.,” the mother told Garcia. “You knew how I suffered with her and all the battles we went through during her first years. You didn’t stop. God forgive you. I do forgive you from the bottom of my heart.”
Another mother of one of the victims told Garcia that he was the last person she could have imagined would harm her daughter.
“You were a very special man to us. You were an example. I can say you were the dad I wished I had,” the woman said as the victims sobbed loudly in the courtroom gallery.
She told Garcia that his actions have changed their lives.
“I cannot wish you any harm. I wish that you have peace and same for us, because we need it,” she said.
One of the girls’ fathers was the last to address Garcia. He talked of the hurt he feels to have lost a man he considered a father, a friend and a brother.
“I have nothing against anyone, not even against him,” the father said. “Because the Scriptures say God does not hate the sinner, but the sin.”