Opening statements in former officer's trial set for today

Opening statements are scheduled to begin today in the trial of a former Desert Hot Springs police officer accused of molesting an underage relative and her friend, who were part of a police ride-along program.

The prosecution yesterday dropped nearly half — 17 out of 37 — of the criminal charges against 37-year-old Dennis Paul Decker, but he he still faces life behind bars if convicted.

The prosecution agreed to drop some of the charges against Decker back in November in the "interest of justice," said Michael Jeandron of the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. He said the reduction in the number of charges was put on the record yesterday.

Decker is now facing 20 counts, including aggravated sexual assault on a child, rape and lewd acts with a child.

The two alleged victims were in the Explorers Program, which allows teenagers to ride along with police and perform tasks at the station.

Prosecutors allege Decker molested the relative, who is now 18, over a 10-year period, starting in 1996. Authorities allege the other girl was molested over a one-year period while she was a member of the Explorers Program.

Decker founded and supervised the program in Desert Hot Springs and also worked as a resource officer at Desert Hot Springs High School and Desert Springs Middle School. He is being held at the Indio Jail in lieu of $2 million bail.

Opening statements were supposed to begin yesterday, but Riverside County Superior Court Judge Harold W. Hopp postponed them until today due to a health problem involving a juror.

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