SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) - A 34-year-old child care service provider from Costa Mesa was sentenced Friday to 707 years and eight months to life in prison for molesting 16 boys, aged 2 to 14, and showing another victim child pornography.
Matthew Antonio Zakrzewski was convicted Oct. 3 of 34 felony sex charges related to 17 victims in crimes that prosecutors said took place from 2014 through 2019.
Jurors in the trial also heard evidence relating to two other boys, including one who was allegedly molested, but the defendant was not charged with attacking those alleged victims, Orange County Deputy District Attorney Juliet Oliver said.
Multiple parents told Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Menninger how the defendant's crimes affected them. One victim offered the defendant forgiveness, while another implored him to seek redemption in religion because, "It's never too late to turn to God."
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But others asked for the maximum punishment, calling the defendant a "master manipulator." One grandmother of two victims said, "A death sentence is too good for him... Please show no mercy on this animal."
The parents of another victim called him a "serial predator," who has left them "grappling with our guilt" for hiring him.
One mother said she took her son to doctors when he was 8 because he was struggling with ulcers. One of the doctors asked if the child had any cause for stress and she said at that time she couldn't think of anything.
"I didn't know, but now I know," she said.
"I will be dealing with guilt for the rest of my life for letting this animal in my life," she said. "I hired a babysitter once in my life. Just once in my life."
Another mom, whose family moved to the United States, said they have had to stay in the country much longer than they wanted to because of the legal proceedings. She said she and her husband had no clue about what was happening with their son when law enforcement paid them a visit about the defendant.
"My husband and I were completely blindsided," she said. "I will never forget that night when law enforcement came to my house. ... These crimes and the aftermath have intertwined in every aspect of our lives."
She described having to take her 12-year-old son to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
"I have grieved my son's childhood while he was still a child," she said. "I can't look at his sweet baby photos anymore without crying. ... All I can see is a child who was being abused and manipulated not to speak up."
She asked the defendant, "Was it worth it? Did you get what you wanted? Because I fail to see how you could think this would go any other way."
Another mother said her son was just about to turn 3 when she hired the defendant.
"He came to our home once a month for a year," she said. "One of the first things he taught him was to keep secrets."
She said he is so conniving that no parole board should ever give credence to what he says about rehabilitation.
"He'll know what to say," she said. "No future committee can believe any of that."
She said her son was so young at the time of his abuse that in conversations with therapists she has come to realize that there's no way she'll ever know "who he could have become."
Her son did not have any problem sleeping alone before, but now has to sleep with his parents, she said.
In her closing argument of the trial, Oliver said Zakrzewski had an "entire book" on pedophilia on his computer.
"In it there's a chapter titled Hunting Season," she said. "... When the defendant reached out to (one of his victims) saying `Let me be his occasional babysitter,' he was hunting (the boy). He was hunting every family in this case. ... He wasn't just reading the book, he could have written the book."
Oliver said the defendant videotaped much of the evidence against him.
In one of the videos, a victim was seen lying on him nude as the defendant "caressed" him to "normalize" the molestation, Oliver argued.
Zakrzewski is seen in another video touching himself with a boy in his lap, the prosecutor argued. When he finished, the defendant allegedly said, "Thank you," Oliver said, adding, "There are no words."
With one of the boys he played a game the defendant called "rocket ship," with the victim on his lap, and he declared, "It feels like we're having sex," Oliver said.
Zakrzewski touted his work with children with behavioral disabilities and advertised that he had years of experience, was CPR trained and had background checks, Oliver said.
Many of the victims were 6 to 9 years old, the prosecutor said.
Jennifer Ryan of the Orange County Public Defender's Office argued that while her client was charged with showing pornography to some of the victims, photos depicting nudity and sex acts are not necessarily "harmful" matter as charged.
"Each charge has separate laws, separate guides," she cautioned jurors.
She rebutted one charge of her client directing a dog to lick the private parts of one of the victims, saying there was no evidence of Zakrzewski directing the canine to perform such an act.
"Cameras are running all the time," she said. "But they want you to believe something that was not depicted happened. ... That is not in evidence."
Ryan also argued that some of the evidence in the trial showed "two kids running around" in their underwear.
"That's not harmful material," she argued. "Sometimes kids run around without their clothes. ... There's nothing wrong with a little boy running around in shorts. ... That's not against the law."
Oliver countered that there was a staggering volume of videos, and investigators never even went through all of them.
"There was no suggestion -- by me or anyone else -- that cameras were running all the time," Oliver said. "Do not let defendant's arguments fool you. ... He deserves nothing short of 34 verdicts of guilt."