A Billings man charged with raping an 8-year-old last year said in court Wednesday that after he was accused, he visited the child’s father’s home and offered for the man to either beat him up or press charges.

Tristan James Morales, 22, faces felony charges of sexual intercourse without consent and witness tampering. Prosecutors say he raped the child in April 2017.

Jury selection took all day Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday covered opening arguments and witness testimony. The trial is expected to conclude Thursday.

Morales maintains that he did not rape the child in April 2017, as prosecutors allege. He does admit to molesting the child in 2012, when she was roughly 3 years old.

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Morales oath

Tristan Morales testifies in his sexual assault trial in District Court on Wednesday.

“I touched her in 2012 but these other allegations are false,” he testified Wednesday.

Morales said that on the night of the alleged rape, he played with the 8-year-old, “rough-housing” for about 10 minutes, but that he had made no sexual contact with her that night.

Morales said that later he had researched some of the legal consequences for sexual assault convictions because he was “college-bound” at the time and worried about how the criminal charges would impact his future.

He had at one point expressed interest in becoming a school counselor, according to documents filed by the state. 

Morales also wrote what prosecutor Michael Ellinghouse called a “mass apology” on his Facebook page in the days after the alleged rape. He testified that the apology was related to a fight he had had with a family member five years prior.

Morales went to the 8-year-old’s father’s home one night, not long after the night the child said she was raped, to present the father with the option of either beating him or pressing charges.

Morales said that this was “because I knew that I was in the wrong.”

This took place in 2017, not long after the child said she was raped, her father testified. The visit was a surprise, he said.

“It was something that I don’t think any parent can be ready for,” he said.

The Billings Gazette is not naming the father to avoid identifying a victim of sexual assault.

In an interview with detectives, the child said Morales had sexually assaulted her two other times, in addition to the April 2017 incident, according to documents filed by the prosecution.

Ellinghouse, one of the prosecutors, conducted the cross-examination of Morales.

“And then you molested her?” the prosecutor asked at one point, referring to the 8-year-old.

“Not intentionally, sir,” Morales replied.

One of the defense witnesses is being investigated by prosecutors for possible witness tampering. Advised of the risks, the man chose to testify anyway. He said the child liked to tell stories, and that they weren’t always accurate.

Another defense witness had told Morales during a recorded phone call while he was in jail that she was not cooperating with detectives investigating the case, according to the state's second prosecutor, Morgan Dake.

The woman also told Morales in that call that she would “never, ever help anyone build a case against you,” Dake said.

Morales was under court orders not to discuss the case with the woman, Dake said. The call was arranged by Morales’ girlfriend.

The woman had said at a previous court appearance for Morales that she had not spoken to him during the timeframe described, but the prosecutor’s records from the jail showed she had.

Defense attorney Gregory Paskell asked District Court Judge Rod Souza on Wednesday to consider a lesser included charge of felony sexual assault. It was not immediately clear when the judge would rule on that request. 

On Tuesday, jurors heard testimony from the alleged victim, two detectives, a sexual assault nurse examiner and the alleged victim’s father, who finished testifying Wednesday.

Eight women and five men were selected for the jury. One was selected as an alternate.

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Justice Reporter

Justice reporter for the Billings Gazette.