News Column

Rapists Demand Victim Testify on Their Behalf

July 17, 2013

Torsten Ove

Prosecutors say two illegal immigrants from Mexico convicted of raping a mentally challenged woman last year in Washington, Pa., shouldn't be allowed to compel her to testify on their behalf at their sentencing Friday in a West Virginia courtroom.

But lawyers for the men say the woman has told so many different versions of what happened to her that they want the judge to hear her tale once and for all.

"Her story has evolved over time," said Robert McCoid, attorney for defendant Elmer Ramirez, 44. "Even the FBI agent on the case said her story has changed."

Prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp to quash the unusual defense subpoena to have the woman appear in court, saying facing the men would cause her emotional distress.

Mr. Ramirez and his co-defendant, Jesus Tapia Montes, 37, both of whom were roofers from Mexico living in the U.S. illegally, have pleaded guilty to transporting the mentally challenged 19-year-old woman from West Virginia to Washington for sex last July.

Both had argued repeatedly that they didn't know she was mentally challenged and that she had sex with them willingly.

The U.S. attorney's office said the judge should quash the subpoena because defendants have no right to confront an accuser at sentencing and that forcing her to take the stand "will have a deleterious effect on her emotional state."

Prosecutors are asking for a chance to present evidence of that emotional trauma prior to the sentencing.

The hearing is expected to last much of the day.

In addition to compelling the woman to testify, the defense has subpoenaed many other witnesses, including roommates of the two men who will say the woman was not being held against her will and showed no signs of being mentally challenged.

Mr. Ramirez is facing up to 33 months in prison and Mr. Montes up to 30, and both will eventually be deported.

The FBI said they abducted the woman, who the prosecution says functions at the level of a 12-year-old, from outside her home in Wheeling on July 7, 2012, and drove her to Mr. Tapia's residence on Wylie Avenue in Washington.

Agents said they kept her against her will and raped her repeatedly for four days before returning her to Wheeling on July 11 after learning that her family had reported her missing.

The case promised to be challenging for the prosecution from the start because of the lack of physical evidence and the fact that the woman initially denied any sexual activity when questioned by police.

It was only after a forensic interview at a child advocacy center attended by the FBI that she said both men forced themselves on her.

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-231-0132.

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