Hall of Justice entrance
People enter the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

The Los Gatos woman who stands accused of hosting alcohol-fueled parties for local high schoolers and facilitating sexual assault at the home she owned with tech executive Robert Amaral pleaded “not guilty” to all charges Monday in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

Judge Johnny C. Gogo also approved dates for a preliminary hearing for Shannon O’Connor and the check-in conference that will precede it.

“There’s nothing particularly significant,” said defense lawyer Brian Madden. “It was the next step.”

Just before 9am, O’Connor—who’s accused of luring teenagers using social media to attend out-of-control gatherings—had paused at the entrance to the hallway leading to the courtroom.

An NBC reporter assured her their camera was off, noting they didn’t have authorization to film in that area anyhow.

“They mess with you, they go to jail,” a bailiff told O’Connor, trying to coax her around the corner.

But the defendant was still hesitant to cover the short distance.

“We have to open the courtroom now,” he added. “Let’s go.”

Once in the inmate area, O’Connor sat slumped forward to the left of her lawyer, head bowed, clutching her forearms.

Deputy District Attorney Rebekah Wise gave her appearance for the prosecution.

“Ms. Wise, why don’t you get us caught up to speed?” Judge Gogo invited.

With that the District Attorney’s Office representative shared the progress she’d made working with Madden on calendar options.

Together they settled on Jan. 23, 2023 in Department 26 for the start of a preliminary examination, with an update hearing set for Dec. 12 at 9am in Department 44.

Before approving the dates, the judge turned to O’Connor to take her plea.

She indicated “not guilty” to the 39 charges, including felony child endangerment and sexual battery.

“You have the right and the obligation to be personally present in court,” Gogo said, previewing the preliminary hearing rules, including that it goes ahead even if she doesn’t show. “You have the right to remain silent during your preliminary hearing.”

Wise confirmed she anticipates it will last about two weeks.

Wise had considered having victims speak during the plea hearing—as was her approach during bail proceedings—but ultimately opted against it.

“Originally, myself and defense counsel weren’t in agreement about a preliminary hearing date, so they were going to speak about that,” she told the Los Gatan, afterwards. “Once we settled on a date, they decided not to speak.”

Wise said this is all part of working toward giving victims closure.

“It is a little bit longer out than we wanted,” she said. “But it is a good step forward.”

An anonymous mother spoke outside the courthouse. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Outside the courthouse, a Los Gatos mother who says her daughter was one of O’Connor victims, told the Los Gatan it was upsetting to come face-to-face with the defendant.

The Los Gatan isn’t using her name in order to protect the identity of her child.

“I’m a parent, right? So, my job is to protect my child and other children, and yeah, it’s really hard to see her. And really traumatic,” she said. “In fact, when she walked up, she was right there…like two feet from us, looking us in the eyes.”

It’s also been tough to deal with the lengthy court process, she said, noting the incidents happened when her daughter and her friends, now in their junior year, were freshmen.

“By the time this goes to court or gets any traction, I feel like they’re gonna be in college,” she said. “It’s just not fair to the children and the families that have to live with this day-to-day. They’re doing as well as they can, given the circumstances.”

O’Connor was denied bail in February, and her lawyer appealed the decision. The 6th District Court of Appeal denied the petition. Madden then appealed to the California Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the appellate court.

He argues she should be released because she hasn’t been charged with felony violence or felony sex assault.

O’Connor remains in custody. Oral arguments in her habeas corpus bid are scheduled for Oct. 13 at 1:30pm.

“For her and her attorney to keep pushing out the hearings—you know, every time we come it’s pushed out another 2-4 months, and now it’s January 23—it doesn’t feel satisfying at all,” the Los Gatos mother said.

She told the Los Gatan that when she first wanted to bring the situation to the attention of the authorities, some parents were supportive, while others gave her the cold shoulder.

“Now, this is an adult woman who was doing terrible things, asking boys to do terrible things to girls. But I think that a lot of the families of the boys were nervous,” she said. “In life I think you have a choice. You can keep quiet and it will go on, or you can, you know, find the courage to say, ‘This is going on. This is wrong. And I’m going to put a stop to it. Because other children should not have to suffer.’ And so, there were a lot of brave parents who supported me, and there were a lot of families—and they know who they are—who wanted nothing to do with me when I said, ‘This is going on; we need to protect these children.’”

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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].


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