MARTINEZ -- A Pacheco man on trial for child molestation testified Monday that he was "freaked out" and "horrified" when he woke up during a spring break sleepover to discover he had his hand inside the underwear of his 9-year-old niece.

Ralph Dell, 35, said he was trying to get his 8-year-old daughter and his niece to go to sleep between 1:30 and 2 a.m. after a get-together that had featured bathing a dog, eating pizza and watching TV from a nest of blankets and pillows on the living room floor of his home.

He began by rubbing his daughter's back, putting the girl to sleep "pretty fast," he testified. His niece initially declined a back rub, he said. But Dell said he began rubbing her back, over and under her shirt, after she told him, "I like when my dad tickles my back. It helps me go to sleep."

Dell said he also fell asleep. When he woke up and realized where his hand was, he said he "went into shock. I looked at my hands. I think I said, 'This is not appropriate.' I jumped up and ran out of the room."

Later, under direct examination from defense attorney Ernest Castillo, Dell said he went to his bedroom and "started throwing up."

Prosecutor Chad Mahalich began his forceful cross-examination by asking Dell whether he called police immediately following the incident.

"No, but I should have," Dell said.

"Did you call (the victim's father)?" Mahalich asked.

"It came to mind," Dell said. "No sir, I did not."

"Did you call (the victim's mother)?" Mahalich pressed.

"I did not," Dell said.


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Instead, Dell, before drinking three shots of vodka to calm himself, called his mother, who spent the rest of the night at his house. Later that day, the woman accompanied Dell, his daughter and his niece to The Jungle indoor play site in Concord, after which they took the victim home. The police contacted Dell at 1 a.m. the following day, as another of his daughters was having a sleepover at the house.

After referring to a police report in which Dell was quoted telling the responding officers, "This is a big misunderstanding," Mahalich asked Dell whether one of his concerns was that he didn't want to get into trouble.

"Sure," Dell said.

"You were scared for yourself," Mahalich said.

"That's an accurate statement," Dell said.

Earlier Monday, Dell's ex-wife Rebecca testified tersely to "three or four" incidents during their on-again, off-again relationship in which Dell initiated sex while he was asleep. She also testified that the incidents tended to occur when Ralph Dell was drunk or had smoked marijuana.

Castillo asked Rebecca Dell whether she wanted to be in court testifying.

"No," she said.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because if I help the defense, I'm hurting my niece," she said. "If I help the prosecution, I'm hurting my daughter. No matter what I say, I'm hurting a little girl that I love."

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.