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After four hours of deliberation, Albert Mendez, Jr. was found guilty of indecency with a child by contact and was sentenced to 18 years of prison with a $10,000 fine on Friday, Aug. 5, 2011 in the 32nd Judicial District Court by a Grand Jury.
The morning began at 9 a.m. with presiding Judge Glen Harrison giving the complete charge to the 10-man, 2-woman jury. The indictments read were for three counts against Mendezâ€”aggravated sexual assault, indecency with a child by contact and indecency with a child by exposure, following a Jan. 17, 2010 allegation of crime on his step-daughter.
Judge Harrison discussed each charge presented, such as the age for the first count (a child under 14 years of age) compared to the other two (under 17 years). In proving the committal of the offense, should there be anything found beyond reasonable in each charge, the jury would have to find Mendez not guilty. The judge also reiterated the innocent until proven guilty clause and that the indictments made against Mendez did not equate to guilt.
32nd Judicial District Attorney Ann Reed for the state gave her closing statement, recalling to the jury the many accounts of those involved in the case â€” Sweetwater Police Department (SPD) Sergeant Matt Counts, SPD Detective Lance Richburg, the SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examination) nurse Pat Rawlings and forensic examiner with the DPS (Department of Public Safety) crime lab Naomi McDonald, along with the evidence from the SANE kit and DNA sample of Mendez.
The state took their time in explaining the testimony of Anna Mendez â€” the mother of the victim, that while her accounts to law enforcement were different, the same basic information was given. As the claim of lying arose in the trial, the state broke down her statement as to what was the truth and what was assumed; the state also believed that Anna Mendez was protecting Mendez because they have been living together for some time, though she has taken steps to protect her children.
The physical evidence was discussed by Reed, yet the most important aspect of the case was whether the jury believed the victimâ€™s testimony on the stand â€” as her story was the same throughout, or if they believed Mendez, who told a different story to Richburg. The state asked the jury to look at the evidence as should be done in a fair trial and find Mendez guilty of aggravated sexual assault.
Defense attorney Jeff Propst then gave his closing statement, claiming that the state built their case on a faulty foundation from the confusion resulting from Anna Mendezâ€™s lies. While there should be empathy for the victim, the defense said that the emotions should be kept aside in order to look at what made sense in the case.
McDonaldâ€™s findings in the male DNA test brought up an allegation of a third party, as well as the discussion of DNA transfer was mentioned in the case. SANE nurse Rawlings continually claimed the consistency of the finding to the alleged crime, but the defense argued that both pieces of evidence came to nothing.
The consistency of the stateâ€™s foundation for the case, according to Propst, was wiped away by Anna Mendez, questioning her testimony, the chronology and reasoning within her statement and each changing account given to law enforcement and medical personnel. The culmination led the defense to believe that Anna Mendez had completely fabricated the story.
Propst also stated that the attempts of law enforcement and medical personnel to protect the victim â€” who only gave two statements, led to corruption in the case by keeping the girl next to her mother while the latter events unfolded. However, the story from Mendez has remained consistent, prompting the defense to ask the jury to find Mendez not guilty in order for him to move on with his life.
Reed then offered the final statement â€” which the defense admitted to the jury to be a great advantage. The state broke down the defenseâ€™s argument of little details versus big details: the terminology of anatomy should not be a big detail, though Mendezâ€™s account of when he came home â€” a two hour difference â€” should be. Though Mendez only had a ninth grade education as presented by the defense, Mendezâ€™s work in carpentry should have given him competence to understand what was being asked of him by Richburg.
The state was proud of the law enforcementâ€™s determination to protect the victim by following protocol and policies, including medical personnelâ€™s collecting and analyzing evidence. The foundation of the stateâ€™s case, according to them, was not faulty but built upon a motherâ€™s phone call to authorities, a girlâ€™s account of misconduct performed on her and the evidence. The only person who lied was Mendez, in order to steer clear of trouble.
The true foundation, however, was the victim, who had no reason or motive to lie. Reed asked the jury to use their common sense in looking at the evidence which proves Mendez to be guilty of the first charge of aggravated sexual assault.
With the end of the statements, Judge Harrison gave further instruction to the jury before they left the courtroom around 10:15 a.m. to deliberate. Following the guilty verdict around 2:15 p.m., the punishment portion of the trial began around 3 p.m., in which the jury could offer two to 20 years of prison time.
The state noted Mendezâ€™s prior DWI conviction, stating his history with the legal system, in which they called county attorney Lisa Peterson to briefly discuss the October 2010 conviction. LeeAnn Hicks, the professional counselor to the victim, also testified that she has seen the girl on two occasions, with the second phase beginning in February following the incident and continuing from that time to the present.
Hicks has diagnosed the victim with post-traumatic stress disorder and sexual assault on a child with a clinical emphasis. Various symptoms displayed by the victim, including extreme fear, have led to the diagnosis; several physical, emotional and academic problems could also stem as time passes.
The defense questioned if Hicks could be a fair and impartial juror on a case such as this, and while she stated it was dependent on the topic, she couldnâ€™t be fair on an issue similar to the topic at hand.
The defense, disappointed with the juryâ€™s verdict, called up family members of Mendez to give the jury an impression of their feelings and beliefs of Mendez. Melinda Mendez, his sister-in-law, considered him as one of her brothers, always being there for her family and helping them. She had concerns of his reputation being tarnished as a result of being incarcerated, but also knew he would miss out on a lot of family events.
Mendezâ€™s brother, Cornelio Mendez, recalled growing up with his brother who took on the father role when their parents separated, though their biological father was out of their lives and even though their mother remarried. He cared for Anna Mendezâ€™s children as if they were his own, and Cornelio Mendez said that a long jail sentence would be history repeating himself as Mendez would be out of his four-year-old sonâ€™s life.
The state asked both Melinda and Cornelio Mendez if they would be angry and how they would respond if anyone touched their children inappropriately. They would both be upset, but Mendezâ€™s brother said that he would take care of it personally if anything of that magnitude happened to his children.
In their closing statements, both sides asked the jury to think about an appropriate punishment. The state said that no matter the prison time, the hurt can last a lifetime for the victim. The girl in the photo under the blanket should be remembered while considering punishment, which the state said the count was very serious as no probation was offered.
The defense explained the charge, reminding the jury that good credit behavior can help take off some of the sentenced time for Mendez. However, Mendez would have to serve half of the entire sentence before being considered for parole. Asking the jury to use the qualities of wisdom and mercy, the defense urged them to give a fair sentence.
In the stateâ€™s final argument, Reed asked the jury not to find mercy for Mendez but for the victim's family, especially her biological father Carlos Jaramillo who took steps to ensure his childrenâ€™s safety, and sentence Mendez to the full 20 years.
More than an hourâ€™s time passed before the jury came back with its punishment. A victim impact statement was then read by Carlos Jaramillo, asking Mendez what gave him the right to destroy the lives of his children. Jaramillo hoped Mendez would learn from and pay the consequences of his actions and while Mendez didnâ€™t deserve it, he asked God to forgive him because Carlos Jaramillo said he couldnâ€™t.