A Santa Maria Superior Court Judge on Thursday knocked $200,000 off the bail for a Buellton man charged with several sex crimes against three Santa Ynez Valley teenagers.
Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies arrested Gregory Scott Ray on April 9 amid allegations he engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with three male juveniles.
He pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of child sexual abuse during his April 12 arraignment, including lewd and lascivious acts, sodomy, oral copulation and sexual penetration with a foreign object.
Ray was being held in Santa Barbara County Jail on $1.2 million bail, an amount his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Lea Villegas, called "excessive" and sought to have him released on his own recognizance.
Judge Patricia Kelly partially reduced his bail Thursday morning to $1 million, noting that the appropriate amount should have been $100,000 in accordance with the court's local bail schedule.
"I'm not in disagreement with the severity of the charges or the number of charges," Kelly said, "but the court, in consideration of the local rules and without any further information, is a bit in a pickle."
According to Deputy District Attorney Fabiana Fede, law enforcement requested bail be set at $1 million in an arrest warrant authorized by Judge John McGregor.
Kelly would not substantially reduce Ray's bail to the scheduled amount without seeing the full warrant.
"I don't know if there were other extenuating circumstances that caused the judge at the time of issuing the warrant to exceed that scheduled bail," she said.
The matter will return to court Monday, when McGregor, the assigned trial judge, will review Villegas' request and adjust the bail if appropriate.
According to court documents, Ray met three juvenile male students from the Santa Ynez Valley — ranging in ages from 13 to 17 — between August 2014 and November 2018 using the Grindr dating app.
While two of the boys claim the alleged sexual encounters were mutual, one of the children, who met Ray at age 14, said he felt "uncomfortable" and did not reciprocate Ray's advances during a previous interaction.
A criminal protective order has since been issued for the three victims, who are now 16, 17 and 18 years old.
Though the matter remains under investigation, documents filed by Villegas indicated three additional alleged victims have come forward saying they engaged in mutual and unwanted sexual acts with Ray.
Charges regarding those allegations have yet to be filed.
"This is a case that is especially aggravated," Fede said in opposition, noting that one of the charges alleges Ray sodomized a minor by use of force or fear of great bodily harm.
"He is a great concern to public safety, regardless of the variety of terms that the court could impose on him."
Villegas maintains Ray is no threat to any of the witnesses or to general public safety, particularly in light of the media attention his case has garnered.
Letters from a dozen individuals testifying to Ray's reliability and good character were submitted to the court to demonstrate a strong system of support to ensure he complies with all court orders and conditions of his release.
"He is not a flight risk," Villegas said. "There are people in this community who would support him until he would have to answer."