FLORENCE — The victim was helpless. That’s the picture the prosecution painted to a jury about a boy Ronald Bragonier allegedly molested in 2017.
Bragonier’s trial began Tuesday in Pinal County Superior Court in front of Judge Jason Holmberg. Bragonier, a 55-year-old Maricopa man, is charged with four counts of molestation of a child under the age of 15 and one count of sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 15.
Kristen Sharifi, attorney for the prosecution, said Bragonier used his position as a trusted family friend to groom and eventually molest the victim.
“(The victim) was helpless. He was afraid. He could not stop the abuse ... he was only 13 years old,” Sharifi said during her opening statement.
Bragonier, Sharifi argued, built trust within the family of the victim to the point where he was considered a quasi-member of the family. He referred to himself as an uncle of the victim.
The defense attorney for Bragonier, Vicki Lopez, said her client has denied the allegations from the very beginning. She added she would prove DNA evidence collected by the state is not related in any way to alleged sexual activity between the defendant and the victim.
Bragonier’s attorney said he was also helpless, accusing the victim of being untruthful.
“Lies can make a defendant helpless, and that’s why you’re here,” Lopez said to the jury. “It’s (my client’s) life.”
The victim, now 16, took the witness stand and testified for more than three hours. He said he was 6 or 7 when he first met Bragonier and was 13 when the abuse began. The abuse, the victim said, happened for about three months, “at least twice a month” while he was 13 and stopped before he turned 14 in October 2017.
He testified that he had a very close relationship with Bragonier before things became sexual. He said Bragonier was nice and kind in the beginning.
Bragonier first touched and “examined” the victim’s genitals when he complained of pain in the area. The victim said he did not ask to be touched and felt uncomfortable with the incident.
A couple of months later, the victim was in Florida competing in a major cheerleading competition. He said Bragonier, who was staying in an adjoining hotel room with his girlfriend, came into his room that night and performed a sexual act on him and had him reciprocate the act on Bragonier.
From that point on, the victim said Bragonier became more possessive and more controlling about their relationship and would constantly ask for the victim to sleep over at his house.
“It was pretty often that we were alone together,” the victim said.
Bragonier had given gifts to the victim previously, but he began to lavish the victim with an ever-increasing number of gifts after the sexual abuse began, the victim said.
The gifts included hundreds of miniature model cars, clothes and acne cream. A handyman, Bragonier also made shelves, racks and other woodwork-type gifts for him.
The victim said he became increasingly uncomfortable with Bragonier buying him things for which he expected sexual favors in return.
The sexual acts also increased in severity.
“I was very confused and weirded out by what was going on,” the victim said, adding he became scared when Bragonier continued to push the envelope in their sexual encounters, which occurred in Bragonier’s Maricopa home, in his car and at another house for which he was a caretaker.
When the victim began to distance himself by not returning text messages or not staying the night at Bragonier’s house, Bragonier became angry.
The prosecution showed several text message conversations between Bragonier and the victim where Bragonier’s responses became more jealous, possessive, profane and even threatening.
The situation escalated when Bragonier accosted the victim in public at a gym in Tempe in November 2017. He allegedly yelled, “Why are you not spending the night with me? I want answers.” Due to the loudness of his response, several people at the gym heard it.
The victim also said Bragonier called him a "lying piece of s---" during the gym incident.
Lopez attempted to show inconsistencies in some responses the victim gave to a forensic interviewer and the responses he gave Tuesday. But the line of questioning did not produce anything significant that could not be explained by the victim or the state.
When Lopez tried to nail down a specific detail about one sexual encounter the victim had with Bragonier, the victim said he had tried to forget certain things.
“Over the years, I’ve tried to push it back and not remember it, so the details are a little blurry,” he said.
Near the end of the day, Sharifi asked the victim how he felt about testifying in court.
“I’m feeling scared, but I’m just glad to finally tell someone about what happened,” he said.
Wendy Dutton, a forensic interviewer on the child protection team at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, was the first witness to testify. She gave the jury information about the psychology of child sex abuse victims and how the abuse can manifest itself in different ways, depending on the individual.
More witnesses will be called when the trial resumes Wednesday at 9 a.m.