Jury takes less than 10 minutes for conviction
EAGLE — A jury needed less than 10 minutes to find a 19-year-old man guilty of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl.
However, Ever Valencia was not in court to hear the verdict. After sitting through Tuesday’s jury selection and openings, he skipped Wednesday’s second day. The trial was scheduled for three days, but prosecutor Jake Lilly needed a day and a half to present the case and gain one of the quickest convictions of his career.
“It was a strong case,” Lilly, a former defense attorney and military prosecutor, said. “We draw lines between what’s right and wrong, and this is clearly wrong. Sex assault on children cases are always emotional. When a victim is vindicated, it’s a wonderful day.”
Valencia was charged with sexually assaulting a child during the spring of 2018, on the Eagle County side of the Roaring Fork Valley. The District Attorney’s Office offered him a plea deal, but he rejected it, opting to take his chances at trial, Lilly said.
When Valencia vanished, District Court Judge Russell Granger decided Valencia’s trial would continue in “absentia,” without the defendant.
If Valencia ends up in custody, he’ll go straight to Granger’s court for sentencing. He faces between two years and life in prison.
In his closing arguments, Valencia’s defense attorney Ted Hess said that sometime in the spring of 2018, Valencia got a message from his skateboarding buddy that they were going out. Hess said the girl had consensual sex with Valencia’s friend, and that Valencia got a message from her saying, “You’re next.”
Lilly was unimpressed.
“Everybody agrees they had sex. She does not get to say yes. The law does not allow that (at her age), and we are a nation of laws,” Lilly said.
Hess said the girl went through one law enforcement interview, came out and talked to her mom, walked back in and told investigators she had been raped.
“Is she a truth-teller, or not? We submit that she is not a truth-teller,” Hess told the jury.
That does not matter, Lilly said.
“An 18-year-old man had sex with a 12-year-old girl. We all agree on that. That’s sexual assault whether or not she consented,” Lilly said in his closing arguments. “She was 12 years old, in middle school, a little girl who sat on that witness stand and was so nervous that she could not get her own age right. That is a girl who no 18-year-old man should be having sex with. She is a 12-year-old girl. Under the law she cannot legally say yes, and we are a nation of laws.”
Crime victim’s visa
Hess declined to say whether Valencia is in the country legally. He said the victim is a U.S. citizen. Her mother is in the country illegally, Hess said, and will probably apply from a crime victim’s visa, or U visa.
Because the victim is a minor, her mother can show she cooperated with the investigation and prosecutors, and could receive the U visa for which her daughter — the victim in this case — would be eligible, Hess said. Hess said his Glenwood Springs law practice does extensive immigration work and deals with U visas regularly.
“If you’re a victim of domestic violence or other qualifying crimes — and certainly sexual assault is one — you can seek a U visa,” Hess explained. “The motivation to get a U visa is a strong theme underlying this case.”
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