FULLERTON, Calif. – Neighbors saw Isidro Garcia as a doting father who liked to host parties at his home with the wife he adored.
But it was all a facade, according to prosecutors, who say the wife was 15 when he abducted her years earlier, forced her into marriage and threatened to have her deported if she dared leave.
On Thursday afternoon, the dramatically different portrayals will be presented to jurors in an Orange County courtroom as now-42-year-old Garcia stands trial on charges of rape, kidnapping and lewd acts on a child.
Garcia was arrested in 2014 after his wife told authorities that he had abducted her a decade earlier and forced her to stay with him. She met him shortly after arriving from Mexico to live in Santa Ana, California, with her mother, who was Garcia's girlfriend at the time.
During the trial, the woman is expected to testify that Garcia sexually abused her before kidnapping her after a family dispute. Initially she was kept in a garage and told she would be sent out of the country if she called the police.
But those who knew Garcia and his wife in more recent years could also provide accounts of the couple, who according to neighbors, seemed to be happily raising their young daughter in an apartment in an immigrant neighborhood.
Legal experts said such testimony could influence how a jury sees the case.
Sexual contact between Garcia and his wife when she was underage would be a crime, said Lawrence Rosenthal, a law professor at Chapman University in Southern California. But jurors may have a harder time convicting him of kidnapping or rape if they believe she wanted to run away with him.
"A jury certainly could be influenced by the fact they seemed to be living consensually," he said. "A jury will be puzzled if a victim isn't acting in a way it expects a victim to act."
Prosecutor Whitney Bokosky declined to comment on the case ahead of trial. She has asked to be allowed to call as a witness Elizabeth Smart, who was held captive for nine months after she was kidnapped from her Utah home and now works to bring awareness to predatory crimes against children.
Messages left for Garcia's attorney, Seth Bank, were not immediately returned.
Garcia has pleaded not guilty. His previous lawyer said the girl left willingly with him and fabricated the allegations after reconnecting with her sister on Facebook in an attempt to win back her mother's love.
If Garcia is convicted of kidnapping to commit a sex offense, he could face a life sentence.
Police said the woman was moved around and given multiple fake identities to keep her hidden from family and authorities even as she appeared from the outside to be living a normal life.
After Garcia was arrested, neighbors were stunned and recalled how the family had thrown elaborate parties featuring costumed characters and raffle giveaways.
In family court papers, the woman wrote that she reported Garcia to authorities when she became concerned with the way he was lying next to their daughter in May 2014. A day earlier, Garcia had pulled her hair and pushed her against the wall, bruising her arm, she wrote in an application for a restraining order after Garcia was arrested.
"During the ten years I lived with him he always threatened that if I said anything to anyone I would get thrown in jail for using false identification and that immigration would deport me," the woman wrote. The Associated Press does not name victims in sexual abuse cases.
Michael Brennan, a clinical law professor at University of Southern California, questioned how much a jury would be swayed by the amount of time the woman stayed with Garcia.
"The defense is going to throw out whatever they can in terms of trying to convince a jury she really was there voluntarily," he said. "I just don't think it is going to have very much appeal."