A year and a half after his arrest on charges of sexually abusing a 5-year-old boy in Hialeah, Cuban painter Agustín Bejarano appeared before a Miami-Dade court on Tuesday and pleaded guilty of attempting to harass a minor.
Under his attorney’s advice, Bejarano, 47, accepted culpability in order to receive a reduced sentence and avoid a trial in which, if found guilty, he would face a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
The painter, who lives in Havana and is considered one of the most important contemporary artists on the island, was sentenced to 42 months in prison and 10 years of parole. He will also be declared a sexual predator.
After serving his sentence, Bejarano will be deported to Cuba, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy said during the hearing.
“I told [Bejarano] that if the most important thing for him was to reunite with his family in Cuba soon, he should consider the option of accepting part of the charges,” said Melvin Black, Bejarano’s attorney.
The 18 months he has spent in a Miami-Dade jail since Hialeah police arrested him in March 2011 will be deducted from his sentence.
Black told El Nuevo Herald that Bejarano can be deported to Cuba because he is not in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act.
“He was here as a visitor and not under an immigrant status,” Black said.
Although they are not satisfied with the light sentence, relatives of the young victim said they accept the deal.
“We feel at peace with the fact that he pleaded guilty because he knows what he has done and he will serve a sentence,” said the child’s mother, whose name is not being published to protect the minor’s identity. “Yet it’s not enough punishment. He is going to be in prison a year and half and sent to Cuba on parole, which doesn’t exist in Cuba because there is no law there.”
Bejarano was arrested after allegations that he had harassed his wife’s nephew. At the time, the painter had been visiting Miami to attend ArteAméricas in Miami Beach, where he showcased several of his works.
On March 20, 2010, Bejarano and his wife, who accompanied him on the trip, went to a barbecue at her relative’s home.
Three days after the party, the boy told his father that during the visit Bejarano entered his small bedroom, showed him his erect penis and forced the child to touch it several times. Then Bejarano kissed the boy on the mouth, according to the police report.
On March 25, the child’s parents pressed charges. After taking their testimony, the Hialeah police requested that a therapist at Kristi House, an organization to protect sexual abuse juvenile victims, interview the boy, who repeated the same story.
Hialeah detectives interrogated Bejarano at the Brickell Bay apartment were he was staying. The painter agreed to answer questions without an attorney present. Bejarano was jailed without bail because he was considered a flight risk.
Police said that in a taped statement Bejarano admitted culpability. However, his lawyer has presented a different version.
“During the interview with police in 2011, my client denied the accusation that he touched or was touched by the child,” Black said Tuesday. “And this is something that we continue to deny emphatically.”
Since his arrest, the painter, who is the father of two, has received support from other Cuban artists who do not believe the allegations. Two blogs were created to promote Bejarano’s innocence.
In letters written in his defense circulated on the Internet, some people accused the child’s family of fabricating the accusations to seek monetary compensation. The child’s family denied the allegations and called them “repugnant.”