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Abuser guilty on 4 counts

The former receptionist for a school-based clinic in Medford is guilty of sexually abusing four grade-school girls but not a fifth who frequently fabricated reasons to see the nurse.

After nearly six hours of deliberations, Jackson County Circuit Court jurors late Friday convicted 29-year-old Luis Armando Mesta on four counts of first-degree sex abuse. Mesta, of Medford, is to be sentenced following the completion of a background investigation, standard in such cases. No date was set for that hearing.

Mesta is subject to Oregon's mandatory penalty of six years and three months in prison for each count but could serve the terms one after the other, said prosecutor Rachel Bridges.

"I think it's appropriate to ask for consecutive sentences when there are separate victims," Bridges said.

Five child witnesses testified during the four-day trial that Mesta touched their breasts at Kids Health Connection, located on the grounds of Jackson Elementary School. All five are current or former students there.

While Mesta's defense attorney, Paul Beneke, argued in his closing statement that Mesta "would have had to have been Houdini" to carry out crimes in the clinic's close quarters, Bridges implored the jury to prevent him from abusing other children.

"You have a predatory sex offender on your hands ... Take care of it right now," Bridge told the panel of nine men and three women.

Two of the girls and their families were present for the verdicts but declined comment. The Mail Tribune does not print names of sex abuse victims.

The crimes came to light Oct. 2 when two fourth-graders said Mesta lifted up their shirts that day at the clinic and groped their breasts under the pretense of listening to their hearts with a stethoscope. One of those girls had suffered previous sex abuse at age 3 and lived in foster care.

A third girl, also in fourth grade, said Mesta molested her in September when she went to the clinic to take a vaporized asthma medication. Mesta's hands lingered on her breasts as he smoothed her shirt in the clinic's exam room, the told the jury.

The last girl to disclose abuse said Mesta reached down her shirt in September and touched both her breasts while pretending to examine a necklace she was wearing. She told a school administrative employee about a week after Mesta had been dismissed from the clinic, operated by La Clinica del Valle and other community partners.

Yet jurors voted not guilty in the case of the only girl who alleged Mesta sexually abused her during the previous school year, when she was in third grade. The same girl told the jury she frequently made up reasons for visiting the clinic's nurse in order to get out of class. She missed school for a week after reporting that Mesta put his hand up her shirt.

Mesta, who previously lived in the 300 block of West Clark Street, was arrested Oct. 9. He has remained in the Jackson County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail since his arrest.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.