Finley teenager will be tried as adult in rape case

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldApril 18, 2013 

A Finley teen charged with attacking a young mother inside her home will be tried as an adult because "he committed an extremely violent sexual offense," a judge said Thursday.

Rodolfo Garcia, 16, had sought to keep his case in Benton County Juvenile Court.

He is accused of forcing his way into a neighbor's home in the middle of the night, robbing her of $40 cash and raping her, all while holding two large kitchen knives.

"Rape in the first-degree, that's -- short of murder -- that's perhaps one of the most serious offenses there could be," Superior Court Judge Robert Swisher announced after taking a 50-minute recess from Thursday's hearing to consider his decision. "This occurred in the sanctity of a person's home. You go to your home, you think you're safe, and then someone comes into your home and robs and rapes you with a knife."

Swisher described the Jan. 16 crime as aggressive, premeditated, sophisticated and predatory, and said holding "a knife to a throat is a threat to kill."

Garcia's parents sobbed throughout the hearing. Garcia showed little emotion as the judge was talking, but appeared to fight back tears as he walked past his family on his way out of the courtroom.

He can appeal the judge's ruling.

Garcia was 15 when he allegedly decided to assault the woman at Kelley's Estates Mobile Home Park, knowing she'd left her children with a neighbor and was home alone.

The teen lives in the same park and had been visiting his girlfriend, who also lives in the neighborhood.

If he had been 16 at the time of the crime, the case automatically would have been bumped up to Superior Court, where he would be tried as an adult.

But since his birthday wasn't until March 20, prosecutors had to request a hearing and present testimony showing why they believe Garcia's actions were too egregious for the case to stay in the juvenile system.

"He was the instigator. The thought process, everything, was his. He led this crime," Deputy Prosecutor Ronald Boy said. "It was his will to rob the victim. It was his will to rape the victim. He led her through the whole violent event."

"The victim feared for her safety, she feared for her life," he added.

Defense attorney Mia Mendoza argued against the prosecution claim that locking Garcia up as an adult would be in the best interest of society.

Mendoza said no one has a crystal ball as to what ultimately will happen to the teen, but added that if he remained in juvenile he's guaranteed to get research-based sex offender treatment.

"Mr. Garcia is 16 years of age. He is in a period of adolescence in his life wherein his brain is still developing," she told the court. "He's in a period where if we give him treatment, it could make a lasting impact on his life."

Garcia reportedly admitted to authorities that when he lived in Las Vegas until the age of 14, he had been part of a "tagging crew" which would spray-paint property. However, his only prior criminal offense was a marijuana possession charge.

He reported that he had smoked pot daily, was on a long-term suspension from high school and would sneak out most nights.

His parents reported him as a runaway five times between July and October. He once was gone for up to three days. His mother was pursuing a youth-at-risk petition since her son's behavior had drastically changed since last summer, and his father had even taken him to work to keep his son busy.

Swisher, who called it a sad and terrible case, recognized that Garcia's parents had been concerned and were taking active steps to protect him.

"Yet, here we are," the judge said.

Garcia allegedly knocked on the woman's door about 2 a.m. and forced his way into the house. The woman had answered the door thinking her kids decided to come home.

The woman pleaded with him not to hurt her and got the cash from her purse, which he grabbed along with her cellphone and put in his pocket, sheriff's Detective Lee Cantu testified during a Monday hearing.

Garcia eventually pushed the woman into a bedroom, covered her head with a sweater so she wouldn't look at him and raped her while holding a knife to her throat, Cantu said. When done, he allegedly pressed the knives against her back as a threat, then closed and locked the bedroom door and ran out of the house.

The crime was well-planned because Garcia wrapped a torn T-shirt around his face so only his eyes were exposed, used hand motions instead of words when ordering the victim around, removed the battery from her phone so police could not track him and ran the long way home to avoid detection in case the woman tried to chase him down that night, Cantu said.

The woman did run out her front door but couldn't see anyone. She then ran to a nearby home with lights on and asked them to call 911 because her phone was stolen in the attack.

Garcia was charged in juvenile court with first-degree rape and first-degree robbery.

After Swisher's ruling, prosecutors said they would file the case in Superior Court that same day.

Charging documents had not been turned in to criminal clerks as of late Thursday afternoon, shortly before the Benton County Clerk's Office closed.

The judge did schedule Garcia to appear in court next Wednesday.

If Garcia is charged with rape and robbery and is convicted, he is looking at nine years and three months to 12 years in state prison.

He would be held at a juvenile institution for at least two years until he turns 18 and completes sex offender treatment, then likely would be transferred into the custody of the Department of Corrections to serve out the rest of his time. He would have to serve the full minimum term with no credit for good behavior because it's a serious sex offense, then his release would be up to a state board.

A rape conviction results in a lifetime sex offender registration and supervision.

Garcia has been locked up in juvenile detention on $100,000 bail. He will remain in that facility while the case is pending, since the juvenile probation supervisor told the court that Garcia has been doing well in the facility and is attending school classes.

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