A jury convicted Tristan Morales of Billings on Thursday of raping a young girl
A jury convicted Tristan Morales of Billings on Thursday of raping a young girl, despite his claim that he only touched her inappropriately and “stopped myself” before it went further.
Morales, 22 years old, was convicted at trial in Yellowstone County District Court of one count of sexual intercourse without consent.
The jury deliberated for just over two hours before reaching a verdict that found Morales guilty of raping an 8-year-old girl in April of 2017.
During closing arguments, prosecutors told jurors that after Morales raped the girl, he then went online and researched penalties for sexual crimes.
“He checked out Montana’s statutes and the penalties before he crafted his story,” argued the prosecutor during closing arguments.
The prosecutor said that Morales learned that sexual touching was not enough to constitute sexual intercourse without consent, so he crafted his story around an admission that he only touched the girl inappropriately.
Though the victim told investigators she was raped in 2017, Morales claimed he molested the victim in 2012.
Morales would have been 17 at that time, which would likely subject him to juvenile charges instead of felony charges as an adult.
“(The victim) was 3 years old in 2012,” argued the prosecutor. “She wouldn’t have been old enough to remember in what happened to her in such vivid detail.”
Greg Paskell, the defense attorney, argued that a lack of certain details in the victim’s account are proof that the assault happened at an earlier age.
“We don’t forget traumatic experiences. They leave an indelible mark on our lives,” said Paskell. “Eight-year-old girls aren’t actively involved in cognitive thinking.”
During his closing argument, Paskell then questioned whether the assault happened at all.
“She said the pain was a 10 out of 10,” said Paskell. “There’s just no way. That would be comatose.”
Before asking the jury to find Morales innocent, Paskell asked them a question.
“Would you turn the life support off today based on what you heard?” asked Paskell.
Before being sent to deliberate, prosecutors played for the jury a recording of Morales during an interview with detectives where he said nothing from his past would “get in the way of” his future.
With that remark, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, effectively sending Morales to prison for the rest of his life.
The victim is under the age of 12, meaning the crime falls under Jessica’s Law, which requires a 100-year sentence for the offender.