Six more months behind bars might not seem significant when a convicted rapist is facing a potential life sentence, but Judge Alex Ekstrom said Tuesday he couldn’t ignore how the Finley teen’s crime was so “profoundly disturbing.”
Rodolfo Garcia Jr., 15, forced his way into a neighbor’s home, raped a young mother while threatening her with two large kitchen knives and stole her cellphone and $42.
Garcia knew the mother had left her children with a babysitter and was home alone, and he acted with sophistication by making sure he didn’t leave DNA and later removing the battery from her phone so it couldn’t be used to track him down.
Ekstrom said for those reasons it wasn’t appropriate to go with 8 1/2 years in prison as a mandatory minimum term. The Benton County Superior Court judge said even though prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to that bottom-of-the-range sentence, he needed to bump it up to nine years.
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However, Garcia’s ultimate release from prison will be up to the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board since the sex crime carries a maximum life term.
“The court needs to fashion a sentence that promotes respect for the law, a punishment that is just. ... This is one of the more serious fact patterns for (first-degree) rape,” Ekstrom said. He noted that even though Garcia didn’t have any criminal history, the court needs to protect the public.
“Here the problem is that when the community seeks to put a face on its fears, you’re the face. What you’ve done is the embodiment of sort of our social nightmare,” he added.
Garcia, now 17, pleaded guilty Oct. 9 to first-degree rape and first-degree theft.
He originally was charged as a juvenile but another judge earlier ruled that Garcia would be tried as an adult because the January 2013 crime was aggressive, premeditated and predatory.
Garcia already has served nearly two years in the Juvenile Detention Center since his arrest. He will be held in a state Department of Corrections’ facility that houses youth offenders until he’s 18 on March 20. Then he’ll be transferred to an adult prison.
Garcia apologized Tuesday to the victim, who didn’t attend the hearing. His parents sobbed throughout the hearing.
“She doesn’t have to forgive me, but I just wanted her to know that I’m very, very sorry, your honor,” the teen said. “I take full responsibility in this, your honor. I will take the consequences for my actions.”
Garcia decided to rob the woman at 2 a.m., knowing she was alone. She pleaded with Garcia not to hurt her and got the cash from her purse. He eventually pushed the woman into a bedroom and raped her while holding a knife to her throat.
Garcia had wrapped a torn T-shirt around his face so only his eyes were exposed and used hand motions instead of words. When later shown photos of possible suspects that only showed their eyes, eyebrows and upper bridge of the nose, the woman picked out Garcia’s picture.
Garcia had told Benton County sheriff’s detectives he was nervous when he first walked up to the neighbor’s door, but then said “he felt in control of her and empowered over her” once she gave him the money. He said he felt he could do anything with her after this point forward and that’s when the idea came to rape her, according to his presentencing report.
In an interview with Community Corrections Officer Kevin Jones for the report, Garcia said he “replays the crime over and over in his head and feels bad for the victim.” Jones described the crime as “a horrific and terrifying home invasion that has left emotional scars to the victim.”
The woman wrote a letter to the court saying after the attack she became anti-social and stopped going out with family and friends because she was afraid to leave her home. She’s also had flashbacks from what happened that night.
“I always have been keeping my guard up. I feel like always someone is looking at me,” she said. “I wouldn’t want another victim to go through this. I’m very grateful to be alive, but I always have that fear of being alone and going through that dramatic moment.”
The woman reportedly completed six months of counseling and has said she now feels stronger and better about herself.
Larry Stephenson, who represented Garcia along with Michelle Alexander, got choked up Tuesday as he talked about his client’s parents and how they blamed themselves for not being able to control him. He added that there weren’t many resources available to them without a lot of money, but said that’s no excuse for what Garcia did.
Garcia had admitted that after moving from Las Vegas at age 14, he would smoke pot daily, would sneak out of his home most nights and was on a long-term suspension from high school. His parents had reported him as a runaway five times between July and October 2012, his father would take him to work to keep him busy and his mother was pursuing a youth-at-risk petition since her son’s behavior had drastically changed.
Stephenson acknowledged that his client went after the victim “in a very calculated way,” and said his heart goes out to her. The lawyer said Garcia’s actions don’t seem to fit his personality, and hopes he takes advantage of programs while in prison so in the future he can be released and deemed a decent citizen.
Ekstrom said he had planned to give Garcia a 10-year minimum term but was respectful of the prosecution and defense arguments and the negotiated plea. He added that Garcia will “get out of custody one of these days and you’re going to need to reintegrate into society, but today you’ve richly deserved the sentence that I’ve imposed.”
Garcia will have to register as a sex offender and must stay away from the victim for the rest of his life.