VISTA (CNS) - An Escondido auto mechanic suspected of sneaking into North County homes and fondling several girls as they slept pleaded not guilty Thursday to multiple sexual assault charges and was ordered held in lieu of $7.5 million bail.
Gilbert Andrew Chavarria is facing up to life in prison if convicted of 17 counts, including lewd and lascivious acts on a child under age 14, assault with intent to commit child molestation during a burglary and residential burglary.
Chavarria is suspected of removing or slicing open window screens to get into homes in the early-morning hours, then creeping into the bedrooms of six girls ages 5 to 15, cutting holes in their sleepwear and molesting them, according to Deputy District Attorney Ryan Saunders.
Most of the alleged assaults occurred in Escondido and San Marcos during the summer of 2013.
"The facts of this case are extremely disturbing," Saunders said outside the courtroom. "You have an individual who is climbing into strangers' children's bedroom windows, getting close enough to touch them and actually having some sort of object that was sharp enough in his hand to cut away their pajamas. It's disturbing behavior."
It's unknown whether he allegedly stalked or followed those victims, according to the prosecutor.
Several of the charges were added following Chavarria's arrest on Monday as authorities had learned of three additional victims, Saunders said.
In August 2012, Chavarria allegedly touched two 8-year-old girls while they slept at a home he frequented, and touched the private areas of a 5-year-old girl he knew on two separate occasions last spring. He's not suspected of cutting through those victims' pajamas, Saunders said.
"With respect to those three victims, there are no burglary charges," the prosecutor said. "It wasn't that he was climbing into unknown windows."
Chavarria arrest came after DNA matches and other evidence allegedly linked him to the break-ins and sexual assaults. Saunders said the DNA collected at some of the crime scenes was sent to the U.S. Department of Justice, and a familial DNA hit ultimately pointed local law enforcement to
Chavarria's arrest was the first in San Diego County stemming from a familial DNA match, according to the prosecutor.
Chavarria is due back in court for a readiness conference on Feb. 27. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for March 4.