Formal charges brought in first Chelsea’s Law case

EL CAJON (CNS) – A man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to molesting two Lakeside boys, in what the District Attorney's Office touts as the first San Diego case prosecuted under the provisions of the recently enacted Chelsea's Law.

Joseph William Cantorna, a 55-year-old registered sex offender, is charged with four felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor.

Because the prosecution alleges there are multiple victims, the charges carry a maximum punishment of 25 years to life in prison each.

The same charges and allegations prior to Chelsea's Law would have brought a maximum of 15 years to life in prison.

The law is named for Poway High School senior Chelsea King, who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by sex offender John Albert Gardner III on Feb. 25 near Rancho Bernardo Community Park.

The measure, which toughens penalties for sex crimes and heightens official monitoring of sex offenders, was signed last week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and took effect immediately.

Residents of the Cherry Road neighborhood where the alleged molestations took place last weekend said Cantorna lived for several years in a nearby group home, but they were never informed of his background.

“(Cantorna) never should have been allowed in that neighborhood, in that home, walking the area freely and doing what he did on Sunday,” said Kent Kopperud, who lives on Cherry Road and attended the court hearing.

He said officials need to investigate how Cantorna ended up in a residential neighborhood without the residents being notified.

Deputy District Attorney Claudia Grasso said the alleged victims, ages 7 and 9, were riding their bicycles when one went to get a drink.

Cantorna approached the younger boy and began to touch his bicycle and then rubbed his back, Grasso alleged.

The 9-year-old saw what was happening and returned to his friend, at which time the defendant turned his attention to the older boy and began to rub his back, buttocks and penis, she alleged.

When the man asked if they would like to see his private parts, they rode away, according to the prosecutor.

Cantorna, who is also charged with two misdemeanor counts of annoying or molesting children, has a lengthy criminal record, the prosecutor said, but did not know the details.

As to Cantorna's presence in the neighborhood, “I understand the outrage, but it is too early to be pointing fingers,” Grasso said. “The investigation is still at its inception.”

Judge Herbert Exarhos set bail at $1 million and scheduled a readiness conference for Sept. 23.

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