Sex offender awarded custody of 6-year-old girl

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) A judge in Oklahoma City awarded custody of a child to 55-year-old Nicholas Elizondo, who is a registered sex offender from Bakersfield.

The child is Elizondo's 6-year-old daughter. The ruling left the girl's mother bewildered, she said.

"I just don't understand," said Lisa Knight, the child's mother.

Elizondo was convicted in 1995 of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age.

Knight and Elizondo were married and living in Bakersfield. Knight moved to Oklahoma after becoming pregnant with the couple's only child. They divorced in 2008, and Knight had custody of their daughter.

Elizondo was granted supervised visits, and later unsupervised visits, with his daughter, and he would travel to see her in Oklahoma, or his daughter would be taken to see her father in Bakersfield.

In court documents, Elizondo said he filed for custody after Knight stopped allowing him to see his daughter.

After a lengthy custody battle, Oklahoma County 7th District Court Judge Howard Haralson ruled on Monday in favor of Elizondo and granted him custody of the couple's daughter, despite Elizondo's record of child sex abuse.

"There isn't anything prohibiting a judge from giving a person convicted of that once they've done their time and they're off probation or parole," said Kern County Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman. "There is a lot to be taken into account, but you'd think that there would be a great deal of weight given to a person that actually was charged and convicted and went to prison for molesting a child under 14."

According to Elizondo, he completed parole and probation in 2001.

As for his conviction in 1995, Elizondo said he merely took a plea bargain given what he was facing. Elizondo was facing 11 felony charges of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, but 10 of those were dismissed in exchange for Elizondo pleading no contest to one charge.

"It never happened," said Elizondo of the charge against him.

He said Thursday that police encouraged the child to say incriminating things during the investigation to build a case against him.

The incident happened a few years after Kern County prosecutors tried and juries convicted numerous people on child sex abuse charges, known as the "Witch Hunt" trials. People were given long prison sentenced. Many of those same convictions were later tossed out after an appellate court found the accused had been wrongly convicted. The last of the wrongful conviction lawsuits was settled in March of this year.

During a court hearing in Oklahoma City regarding visitation, the victim, who authorities say was molested by Elizondo, testified that she was never molested.

Knight and her attorney, Valerie Williford of Oklahoma City, said it appears Judge Haralson retaliated against Knight for fabricating a story recently in order to keep her daughter from being awarded to Elizondo.

Elizondo and his 19-year-old son Joseph traveled to Oklahoma to visit the 6-year-old. Knight said her 6-year-old daughter was staying with them at a motel, and that during this time the daughter reported to her that the son had inappropriately touched her in a private area. Knight then reported the incident to authorities.

"There's no mind that it happened," said Williford, attorney for Knight. "However, Judge Haralson said that my client completely fabricated that story and basically, I think, he punished her for it."

Knight said she plans on appealing the court's custody ruling as soon as she can raise the funds to do so.