In a surprising move in the middle of his trial, a Kennewick man admitted that he raped a woman more than a year ago in Claybell Park in Richland.
John Ayala Magana, 30, pleaded guilty Thursday morning in Benton County Superior Court to one count of first-degree rape on Dec. 26, 2010.
The plea came a day after the now 24-year-old victim gave emotional testimony in front of jurors about how she was beaten by Magana, forced to perform oral sex and was scared for her life.
Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor almost was done presenting his case -- he had two witnesses left -- and Magana was expected to take the stand as the lone defense witness Thursday afternoon.
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Defense attorney Sal Mendoza Jr. told the Herald that his client decided to plead guilty after new evidence was discussed in court that was expected to be introduced.
"What he decided to do is take responsibility for what he had done and plead guilty," Mendoza said. "He feels that the offer from the prosecutor is a fair offer to resolve this case, and he wants to move on with his life."
Magana's sentencing is set for March 8. He faces a maximum of life in prison and a minimum of 111/2 years to 15 years, four months.
Prosecutors agreed to recommend a minimum prison term of 121/2 years. Magana's ultimate release will be decided by the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board.
Bloor said he made a request to play recordings of two jailhouse phone calls Magana made to his now ex-wife, which would have contradicted the testimony Magana was expected to give.
Magana had claimed that he was in the thicket with the victim and she slapped him so he started punching her, but that they never had sex, Bloor said. In two phone calls from jail, however, Magana tried to explain his injuries to his now ex-wife by saying he was set up and jumped by other people, Bloor said.
Judge Cameron Mitchell hadn't made a ruling about whether the phone calls could be played for the jury when Magana decided to change his plea.
"I think the defendant saw the handwriting on the wall," Bloor said, adding that the evidence presented during the trial was very clear.
"I wish he had taken responsibility earlier, but I'm glad that he has at this point," Bloor said.
Magana's trial started Monday with jury selection.
The woman, who is not named under a Herald policy not to identify victims of sexual assault, said she met up with Magana, an acquaintance, in a restaurant parking lot because she wanted him to pay back $200 she had given him for some prescription pain medication. He encouraged her to sit in his car to check it out because it was new.
He drove to Claybell Park, where he used some cocaine, asked her to expose herself and then refused to drive her back to her car.
When she got out of the car and started walking away, he dragged her into the bushes, started undressing her and repeatedly punched her while sexually assaulting her.
A passer-by heard her screams and called 911, then returned to help her. Magana ran to his car and was arrested by police after he crashed while trying to drive away.
Magana initially was charged with second-degree rape, but prosecutors later amended it to first-degree rape.