SANTA ANA, Calif. – Neighbors still can't believe their ears — the Medranos seems such a nice, non-descriptive family.
And yet the wife's sudden allegation that she had been kidnapped for a decade by her husband changed everything.
The attorney for the man, Isidro Medrano Garcia, is now saying her claims of physical and sexual abuse are lies made up because the couple is breaking up.
Medrano, who is 41, has been charged with five felony counts, including rape and kidnapping to commit a sexual offense.
Prosecutors in Orange County say he abducted the California woman 10 years ago, when she was 15 years old, and forced her into marriage says her claims of physical and sexual abuse are lies made up because the couple was breaking up.
Attorney Charles Frisco said Thursday outside a brief court hearing that his client denies all the allegations, never hit his wife, and would never have prevented her from leaving.
The woman, now 25, came forward this week and told police that Garcia had abducted her, and then through physical, mental and sexual abuse, kept her from reuniting with her family since her 2004 disappearance.
Police say Medrano forced the woman to marry in 2007 and fathered a daughter with her in 2012.
The woman, who has not been identified, vanished as a teenager and reappeared a decade later, telling police her mother's ex-boyfriend drugged and kidnapped her, forced her to marry him and fathered their child.
According to the police, in 2004 Medrano was dating the mother of the victim and living with the family in Santa Ana, the urban center of Orange County. According to authorities, when the mother became suspicious Medrano was sexually abusing her daughter, the man assaulted her, drugged the teen and fled with her to a house in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, about 25 miles away.
Police say Medrano made elaborate efforts to conceal her name and age. He provided the teenager, who had entered the country illegally, with false identification and used physical and emotional abuse to prevent her from fleeing. The teen was initially confined in a garage, and the couple moved frequently to avoid detection. In 2007 Medrano obtained false identification papers for her from Mexico so they could marry.
However, in the Los Angeles suburb of Bell Gardens – some 20 miles away from where the girl originally vanished – the accusations don't match up to what neighbors described as an ideal family.
Neighbors knew the suspect as Tomas Medrano and called him a devoted family man who doted on his wife and toddler daughter. The couple attended church and were known for elaborate parties. "He treats her like a queen," said next-door neighbor Maria Sanchez in Spanish.
Another neighbor, Ricardo Ledesma told the Los Angeles Times, also in Spanish, he never saw any signs of wrongdoing.
"It's an injustice ... I never saw him hit her or any signs of abuse," said Ledesma, who lives in the same apartment building. "He was a hard-working man, he worked two jobs. He would do anything for her and their daughter.”
Medrano lived in Bell Gardens for about four years. The family had the second-floor corner unit of a stucco apartment building in a quiet working-class neighborhood across from a park.
Neighbors said Medrano always said hello, joked with neighbors and sometimes brought them fruit. His wife worked for a nearby janitorial service and he held at least two jobs — including one making egg rolls — and also collected cardboard and recyclable items to sell.
Medrano said he wanted to save money so that his wife didn't have to work, said Lourdes Hernandez, who babysat their child for a year.
The family threw elaborate parties that included costumed characters and raffle giveaways. A video shot at their daughter's birthday party last year shows the mother with the girl in her arms, line-dancing behind her husband as he wiggles his hips.
Hernandez said the woman took Zumba classes in South Los Angeles and sometimes invited her along.
She said she found the woman's story hard to believe.
"He worked hard for her," she said.
Maria Sanchez said the woman had her own car.
"Sometimes she just leaves with her daughter in the car, she never looked scared," she said.
Neighbors said the family took trips together to Disneyland and the beach, and even up north to visit Medrano's family.
"I'm astounded she waited so long to say something," said Rita Salazar.
Police said Medrano repeatedly told the victim her family had given up looking for her.
Police say the woman tried to escape at least twice but was severely beaten. Authorities said she did not try to flee again because the victim was new to the country, didn't speak English and saw no way out of her situation as she lived under sustained physical and mental abuse.
Medical experts say captor-victim relationships can sometimes involve a "trauma bond" — situations where people ought to leave but do not. Victims become "infantilized, dominated. They end up being attached to the person who dominates them, much like a child," says psychiatrist Frank Ochberg.
Only recently, she contacted her sister on Facebook on the woman's birthday and they started to communicate, police said. She also learned that her mother had indeed tried to find her, going to a Spanish-language television station and newspaper in 2004.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press and KTTV, myfoxlosangeles.com.