A Santa Rosa man facing a potential life sentence for suspected sex crimes with a 5-year-old girl appeared in court Wednesday as the suspect's mother and relatives of the child looked on.
Dylan Zara, 28, has been in custody since his July 22 arrest on four felony counts including sexual intercourse, sodomy, oral copulation and possession of child pornography.
Zara was the assistant director for a Sebastopol youth summer camp and former middle school computer technician. The allegations against Zara do not involve anyone at the camp or the school, officials said.
Zara, dressed in a blue jail uniform and wearing a black goatee, postponed entering a plea and responded "I understand" when Judge Ken Gnoss asked if he understood his right to a preliminary hearing.
His mother, Leslie Benjamin of Rio Nido, said she was shocked at the allegations against her son and blamed the Internet for making it "hard to resist the dark side."
"I'm floored by this," Benjamin said. "He has never been in trouble."
According to investigators, the crimes began in February 2010 when the child was 5 and continued through mid-July.
Zara was an assistant director since June at Sun Camp, run by the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center. Since January, he had been a computer technician and campus supervisor at Twin Hills Middle School in Sebastopol. The camp suspended Zara after his arrest and school officials fired him.
Just how the allegations surfaced was unclear, but FBI investigators reportedly tracked pornographic images to his email address, said a source familiar with the case.
The Santa Rosa home he shared with a wife and two step-daughters was then searched, and authorities seized a computer hard-drive containing illicit pictures, the source said.
Family members said the wife and children have moved away from Santa Rosa while the case unfolds.
If convicted of the charges, Zara could face life in prison. Sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child 10 or younger carries a maximum 25 years to life sentence. Oral copulation with someone under 10 can be punishable by up to 15 years to life in prison.
He returns to court Aug. 10 to enter a plea.
Zara's mother said her son grew up around Forestville and at one time aspired to be a police officer, soldier or other "heroic figure."
He completed high school through independent study, demonstrating an aptitude for computers, and took classes at Santa Rosa Junior College. He traveled to Mexico to help build homes for the poor and married in about 2009.
"He's a good kid," said his step-father, Michael Benjamin.
However, a relative of the alleged victim who attended Wednesday's hearing said Zara was eager to babysit the child and was alone with her while the mother worked.
She said the child is recovering and talking openly with her mother about what occurred.
"She's resilient," said the child's aunt.
Zara remained in jail on $1 million bail Wednesday.