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Date Posted on Saturday, March 2, 2002 10:05:50 AM

A 71-year-old Garden City man was acquitted Friday afternoon on charges he repeatedly sexually molested his young granddaughter and two great-granddaughters.

Arthur Cruz exchanged hearty handshakes and bear hugs with numerous family members who have been supporting him in the courtroom throughout the trial. When the not-guilty verdict on five counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child was read, his supporters gasped with delight and shed tears of joy.

Meanwhile, Cruz's 15-year-old granddaughter sat with a relative and sobbed. The girl's companion cried and said she, too, had been victimized by Cruz and can't believe he was freed.

Cruz's twin 9-year-old great-granddaughters also had testified he sexually assaulted them numerous times when they were younger. They were not present for the verdict. Their mother was, and she celebrated the acquittal in the hallway with Cruz and his clan.

The 15-year-old came forward last summer. She said Cruz sexually molested her when she was a 10-year-old spending summer vacation at his home. The incidents surfaced when she reported another family member sexually abused her.

Around the same time, the twins confided in a fireman that they were being abused by Cruz.

Cruz's defense depended on the jurors finding the girls' testimony not credible enough to convict him. He countered their claims by saying the twins made it up because they were mad he took their pet dog, and saying that the 15-year-old wanted to use it to back up claims against another family member.

All three girls testified to similar events. They said Cruz assaulted them when no one else was around - usually when a family member was caring for Cruz's sick wife in another room. He tried to kiss them, would shove his hands down their pants and fondle their genitals, they testified.

They all claimed Cruz told them if they said anything about the fondling, no one would believe them.

In an interview after his arrest, Cruz told a detective he didn't know any of his grandchildren and was stunned anyone would put a Jehovah's Witness in jail.

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