WOODSTOCK – The federal government shutdown over spending on a border wall has started to have an impact on local courts.

Santiago Raymundo-Rafael appeared in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Wednesday for a hearing ahead of his trial scheduled to begin next week. He stands charged with raping a child under 18 years old on Jan. 3, 2000.

Raymundo-Rafael, of Grand Island, Nebraska, has remained held without bond at Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail since his arrest May 25, 2018. A jury trial had been scheduled for Jan. 23-24.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Austin Hovermale asked retired Judge Dennis L. Hupp to grant his motion to continue the case. Hovermale told Hupp that a key witness based in Nebraska works as a federal law enforcement agent. However, the witness has been told he cannot travel to Virginia to testify while the federal government shutdown continues.

Hovermale said he filed the motion late Tuesday after learning about the situation Monday. The prosecutor identified the witness as Lawrence Sattley, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security.

At first, Raymundo-Rafael’s attorney, Margarita Wood, who replaced Peter McDermott in late August, said her client did not object to Hovermale’s request for a continuance. Raymundo-Rafael feels that the federal agent’s testimony could be critical to his case, Wood said.

The judge brought up the matter of whether or not putting off the trial would jeopardize the defendant’s right to a speedy trial. A deputy clerk listened to the audio of a hearing in August during which McDermott said then that his client waived his right to a speedy trial until the trial set at the time for Jan. 23. Hupp said that a continuance at this point would not jeopardize the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

Wood spoke to her client outside the courtroom. When Wood and Raymundo-Rafael returned, the attorney said her client objected to Hovermale’s request for a continuance.

Hupp sided with the prosecutor and granted a continuance, but noted that the court faces a dilemma: it can’t reschedule the trial date without knowing if and when the federal government shutdown will end.

Hupp told Wood “as it stands right now, given the presentation that a crucial witness is unavailable to the commonwealth because of the government shutdown, I think it’s grounds for a continuance.” The judge noted Wood’s exception to his ruling.

“Who knows how long the government’s gonna be shut down?” Hupp said. “It seems to me like there hasn’t been too much grieving to get it resolved, from what I read in the newspapers.”

Hupp granted a defense motion in mid-December to prohibit the prosecution from entering any evidence at trial pertaining to Raymundo-Rafael’s immigration status, applications, benefits or petitions. The judge’s order also prohibits the commonwealth from introducing evidence or testimony at trial disclosing the identity of the employer of the investigators or federal agents who interviewed the defendant on Oct. 5.

Wood states in her motion that Robert Visnaw and Lawrence Sattley, special agents with the Department of Homeland Security, interviewed the defendant in Grand Island. Wood states that she expected the commonwealth to introduce statements made by the defendant to the agents as evidence. The defendant asked the court to exclude any reference to his immigration status or the agents’ employer. Wood argued in support of her motion that such evidence was not relevant to the case, but could prejudicially affect her client.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley accused Raymundo-Rafael in court documents of raping a minor child based on information provided by Woodstock police Sgt. Brian Miller. An investigator met with a 13-year-old girl at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital on Jan. 3, 2000, according to Miller’s statement filed May 11, 2018. The child reported to the investigator that Raymundo-Rafael threw her against the wall of the kitchen in his Woodstock apartment on Jan. 3, 2000. The girl went on to state that she blacked out and, once she regained consciousness, Raymundo-Rafael had climbed on top of her and was having intercourse with her even after she told him to stop. The girl eventually escaped, ran to a nearby pay phone and called 911, the investigator states.

Visnaw, with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Nebraska, interviewed Raymundo-Rafael on Oct. 3 and the defendant admitted to having sexual relations with the child on the date in question, Miller states.

Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com