WOODSTOCK — Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp acquitted a Butner, North Carolina man on Friday of some of the charges related to an April incident in which he was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper.
After Friday’s bench trial, Refugio Zermeno-Camarena, 23, was convicted on one of two sexual battery charges and on one assault and battery charge, both misdemeanors. But the defendant was acquitted of attempted forcible sodomy and kidnapping with the intent to defile, both felonies. He was also acquitted of one sexual battery charge.
Hupp sentenced Zermeno-Camarena to 24 months in jail with 12 months suspended; he has already served almost five of the remaining twelve months. Upon his release, he will remain on unsupervised probation for two years.
On April 6, Zermeno-Camarena was working with his father as a contractor at the Holiday Inn Express in Woodstock, and the victim was a housekeeper at the hotel. The victim testified that while Zermeno-Camarena was installing carpet in the hallway, he was following her from room to room making kissing gestures.
At one point, the victim testified, Zermeno-Camarena kissed her with enough force to push her onto one of the beds in the room. She also testified that he had followed her into a bathroom she was cleaning, slightly closed the door behind him, and tried to force her onto him before she could get away.
The victim told a supervisor about the incident but did not want to press charges at the time because she had learned that Zermeno-Camarena’s wife and children had been staying at the same hotel, adding that she was a mother herself. She only requested that he not be allowed to work the next day, but when she came in the next day and saw that he was still working there, she decided to press charges.
Sgt. Brian Miller of the Woodstock police testified that the surveillance video from the hotel’s hallway was somewhat hard to see clearly because he had to record it secondhand with his own camera. There was also a time discrepancy between the video’s time stamp and the actual time, Miller noted during his testimony.
Zermeno-Camarena, who maintained his innocence, testified that the video only showed him entering rooms that the victim was in so he could work on the carpet. He also said that their interaction was minimal and that he only spoke to the victim to ask for a pen or to ask for the head housekeeper who had the keys to the rooms.
Richard Morgan, the defense attorney, also pointed out discrepancies between Miller’s report of what happened according to an interview with the victim, the victim’s written statement and the testimony she gave in court where some details of the interactions prior to the attack were changed.
“I’m sorry if I’m not saying it all correctly because I’m very nervous,” the victim said of those discrepancies.
The case largely relied on the victim’s testimony, as there was no DNA evidence analyzed from the incident. Morgan zeroed in on the victim’s credibility during his closing argument, saying that she changed her story whenever it suited her.
“This is a great case for a fact finder because this did not happen,” Morgan said.
Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola argued that the victim had no motivation to fabricate the story because she had never even seen Zermeno-Camarena before that day. He attributed the minor discrepancies in the victim’s account of the day’s events to the trauma she endured because of it.
“If this was exaggerated, if this was made up like the defense counsel states, everything would line up,” Campola said.
Hupp explained that he agreed with the prosecution as he did not see any motivation for her to fabricate a story like this, and that minor discrepancies in cases like this are to be expected.
“If she was going to tell a lie, quite frankly she should have come up with a better lie,” Hupp said.
Hupp explained that his decision to acquit Zermeno-Camerana of the two felonies and one of the misdemeanors was largely based on the legal definition of those offenses, and that he did not believe that the offenses met the criteria of the statutes.