The defense for the woman accused of throwing parties for teens in her Los Gatos mansion was dealt a huge blow during a bail hearing Feb. 3, not only because she was denied bail, but also due to the judge tipping his hand about how strong he believes the evidence against her is.

Because, if the investigation done by the District Attorney’s office proves accurate, Shannon O’Connor (aka Shannon Bruga) facilitated sexual assault, tried to intimidate a potential witness from lockup, and conspired with her tech executive husband to hide assets so they can’t go toward restitution, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Johnny C. Gogo said.

O’Connor faces 39 criminal charges and up to 20 years behind bars.

“The court does find a high likelihood that these charges will be found to be true after a jury trial,” Gogo said. “This is a very extraordinary case.”

About 10 youth and five adults attended the hearing to argue against her release. The judge noted additional participants joined the meeting via the Microsoft Teams video streaming platform.

Five people spoke at the hearing to describe the harm they say O’Connor inflicted on them and their families. This was on top of several others who shared testimony at a bail hearing in January.

The speakers have been anonymized in order to hide the identity of minor victims.

“Your honor, I’m Jane Doe 6,” began the first of the day, stating she never got drunk at any of the parties. “I was left extremely discomforted and confused.”

Her observations made her realize O’Connor was far from normal, she said, as she requested Gogo deny bail.

“She will not change,” Jane Doe 6 said. “I pray that she finds herself and comes to terms with the facts of the matter.”

‘The court does agree that there was violence inflicted on some of the minors here’

—Judge Johnny C. Gogo

Next up was the father of Jane Doe 4, who urged the judge to carefully consider the words of the accusers.

“They do not want what happened to them to happen to other teenagers,” he said. “What if Ms. O’Connor is released (on) bail and does it again?”

With multiple victims willing to travel across state lines to argue against her release, it’s clear people are concerned she’s dangerous, he added.

“I’m begging you not to grant bail and keep Ms. O’Connor in jail,” he said, starting to cry while at the podium.

The third speaker chose to identify himself as O’Connor’s first husband. But he is known to the court as John Doe 3.

“The court systems have repeatedly failed to protect us,” he said. “She cannot be trusted.”

O’Connor and her second husband, Robert Amaral, conspired to hide his son from him, John Doe 3 said.

“I plead with you not to grant her bail,” he said, calling O’Connor a “menace to society.”

The fourth to testify was the mother of Jane Doe 6.

“Shannon has no idea who I am,” she said, as the defendant sat quietly in front of her in an ochre shirt, brown sleeves and Crocs-style slippers—her hair pulled up into a tight bun. “But she certainly knows who my daughter is.”

After all, her daughter was lured to O’Connor’s house at least 25 times, she said.

“First she selects her target,” she said. “She has a type: athletic, attractive, smart.”

Next, she builds trust through flattery, she continued.

“She’s the ‘fun mom,’ not like anybody else,” the woman stated. “Next, she executes her plan.”

That plan included, sex, alcohol and other reckless behavior, she asserted.

“And lastly, she seeks to maintain control,” she said, adding she uncovered the manipulation when she caught her daughter messaging O’Connor on trips to-and-from school.

That breached the “mom code”—the societal norm where parents deal with each other and don’t contact children directly—as far as she was concerned.

Shannon Bruga aka Shannon O'Connor
Shannon O’Connor aka Shannon Bruga. (handout).

O’Connor even tried to organize a trip to Cabo San Lucas, in Mexico, for her daughter’s birthday—without parents, she said.

“That’s when I put my foot down,” she said. “Shannon should remain in jail—period.”

The final accusing witness, the father of Jane Doe 5, said O’Connor is a “hyper-manipulator,” the likes of which he and his wife have never met before.

“She knew exactly what she was doing was wrong—she can’t help herself,” he said, pointing to how she disappeared to Idaho while under investigation. “What lengths would she go to now?”

Just prior to the hearing, O’Connor’s lawyer, Brian Madden, filed a motion arguing his client should be freed because the offenses in question aren’t “violent” crimes.

Speaking in a firm, almost angry, tone, Deputy District Attorney Rebekah Wise fired back.

“In this case the defendant orchestrated every single gathering,” she said, arguing the child endangerment did rise to the level of violence. “There was harassment that occurred prior to her even being in custody in this case.

“She is a danger to current victims. She is a danger to future victims.”

Madden tried to get Gogo to see it his way, noting O’Connor faces 12 felony child endangerment charges, alongside 27 misdemeanors.

“We can never lose sight of that,” he said. “I think we need to try to keep things in perspective.”

They weren’t technically violent crimes either, he added.

“We do not get to pick what violent crimes are,” he said, adding Covid-19 has made it difficult to access his client while she’s in custody. “Ms. O’Connor is in lockdown in Elmwood (Correctional Facility).”

He said the judge could order O’Connor on electronic monitoring and prohibit her from using electronics.

“I believe there is a clear solution that will address the court’s concerns,” he said. “In my judgement she is constitutionally entitled to bail.”

He suggested it be set around $600,000.

Plus, Madden said, he’d be willing to agree to any conditions that would get her out of jail, “—and I mean any.”

The judge said his reading of California’s bail case law requires him to consider the facts as presented, and in this case that includes the 8.5-page document developed by DA’s Office investigator Christina Hanks.

He would also factor in witness testimony, he added.

It’s clear that O’Connor knew if she was found out she could end up in jail, Gogo said, adding he was struck by how she’s accused of lying to police on multiple occasions—even after one child became injured while hanging out with her.

Plus, her jailhouse phone call to dissuade victim testimony was just wrong, he ruled.

“The court does find that that incident was an attempt to interfere,” he said, adding O’Connor’s attempt—along with Amaral—to obfuscate her true wealth was stunning.

And ultimately, he went with the prosecution on the violence point.

“The court does agree that there was violence inflicted on some of the minors here,” he said.

Plus, the sex that happened under her watch was “arguably” sexual assault, given how drunk the teens were, meaning they wouldn’t necessarily have been able to consent to the acts, he added. At least one victim was digitally penetrated against her will, according to the DA’s office, he noted.

The victims, who were ages 13-15, were going through a “very precious time” of their lives, the judge pointed out.

“The lies and manipulation have affected the minor victims,” he said. “Alright, the court has made its decision.

“The court will issue no bail.”

O’Connor will now remain behind bars, awaiting her plea hearing, which is scheduled for April 11 at 9am.

Her lawyer says he will appeal the bail decision.

Previous articleLocal Scene: Students recognized at colleges nationwide
Next articleADU install in Los Gatos becomes a neighborhood affair
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]