He was born in the Bronx and served in the European Theater during World War II, but he made his mark in Kern County in 20 years as a doctor and child advocate.
Dr. Jess Diamond, for decades Kern County’s foremost authority on child abuse, has died at the age of 100.
Known for his matching suit and bow tie combinations — frequently in his favorite color, yellow — as well as his New York accent, Diamond was one of the preeminent child abuse experts in California, serving as a witness for the Kern County District Attorney’s Office on hundreds of cases.
Throughout Kern County, Diamond’s colleagues looked up to him for his tireless work ethic.
Diamond, who initially came to Bakersfield in 1980 to chair Kern Medical Center’s Department of Pediatrics, died Nov. 15. His funeral is today.
“I love children, and feel they have a great need to be protected,” Diamond told The Californian in 1999, shortly after his retirement.
Born on Sept. 18, 1918, Diamond grew up in New York City as the son of a restaurateur and apartment manager.
He attributed his work ethic to his father and his interest in medicine to his uncle, who worked as a doctor with a family practice.
At the age of 24, he served as an Army captain assigned to the Medical Corps during World War II.
Late into his life, he could still remember his military identification number by heart.
After working as a pediatrician at hospitals in New York and Illinois, he arrived in Bakersfield, quickly establishing himself into the role he would be remembered for many years after his retirement.
“In Kern County, there really weren’t any other people who had the qualifications he had,” said Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green, who used Diamond as an expert witness in many child sexual abuse cases in the 1980s and 1990s. “He was a great man, and a great witness, and he really had a passion for kids.”
Over the years, many law enforcement authorities praised Diamond for his accessibility.
“Doctors can be a little difficult to get in touch with,” Green said. “Dr. Diamond just made himself so accessible.”
And while a significant portion of doctors and expert witnesses may never change their minds once they have formed an opinion, Diamond proved himself to be willing to revisit old decisions.
Notably, Diamond worked to reverse a guilty charge against Vicente Figueroa Benavides, who was sentenced to death in 1991 for allegedly sexually assaulting and killing 21-month-old Consuelo Verdugo.
Diamond testified for the prosecution in that case, but later overturned his opinion after new evidence came to light that was not available during the original trial.
“I do not believe Mr. Benavides received a fair trial and I provide this declaration in the hope that the current legal proceedings will correct this injustice,” Diamond wrote in a habeus corpus petition in 2012.
The California Supreme Court later overturned the charges against Benavides, who was freed after serving 26 years on death row.
As his family gathered in Bakersfield for the funeral services, they couldn’t help but wonder about the productive life Diamond lived.
“He had a wonderful, long life,” his youngest daughter, Donna Feller, said.
Even in his retirement, he kept active, participating in many children’s organizations and even practicing medicine when he was needed.
“I cannot sit down and do nothing,” Diamond told The Californian in 1999. “The body will wither, and I feel strongly as a physician that you have to give back to the community.”
Diamond is survived by his wife, Ann, to whom he was married 70 years, along with three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Greenlawn Funeral Home, located at 3700 River Blvd.