WOODSTOCK – Almost two decades after the crime, Judge Dennis L. Hupp found Santiago Raymundo-Rafael guilty on Monday of attempting to rape a 13-year-old girl.
Prosecutors argued in Shenandoah County Circuit Court that on Jan. 3, 2000, Raymundo-Rafael hired a girl who lived in the same apartment complex to watch his children. While the girl and her friend were in the home, Raymundo-Rafael made two advances on the neighbor, prosecutors said.
The first incident, which the friend did not see, occurred in the bedroom when the girl was feeding the youngest child. Raymundo-Rafael entered the room, lifted up her shirt and began to kiss her breasts. Prosecutors said her testimony at the time recounted her telling him to stop.
Later, he approached her in the kitchen where he threw her against a wall and attempted to rape her. She said she lost consciousness as a result of hitting her head.
Expert witnesses on Monday included the emergency room doctor who saw the girl on the day of the incident, a forensic nurse and a professor of medicine at George Washington University who is also an emergency room doctor.
The experts, Hupp, said agreed about many things but ultimately came to differing conclusions about whether there was enough physical evidence to convict Raymundo-Rafael of rape.
Anne Caldwell was working in the emergency room the afternoon the girl came in saying she had been raped. Caldwell spoke to the courtroom about the incident, reading from the report she made at the time.
The report, she said, was typical of every case she saw and included references to a tender spot on the girl’s head consistent with her account of being thrown against the wall.
During the course of her examination, Caldwell conducted a genital exam and performed tests to check for the possibility of a sexual assault. The tests, she told the court, came back “normal.”
Much of Monday’s trial revolved around the results of Caldwell’s exam and that “normal” result.
Cynthia Leahy, a registered nurse and director of the Winchester Medical Center’s clinical forensic program, said that most sexual assault tests come back with little-to-no evidence of physical harm. Oftentimes, she said, bruising does not appear for one or two days, and swabs looking for biological material can miss picking up any evidence.
Even when physical damage is visible, it is hard for nurses and doctors to determine where the injuries came from, she said.
While Leahy spoke generally about tests for sexual assault, which she has conducted more than a thousand times, the defense called a witness who had spent more time with this case in particular.
Jeffrey Smith, an emergency room doctor at George Washington University, said he agreed with Leahy that many if not most cases of sexual assault show few signs of physical harm. But in this instance, he said, there should have been an abundance of evidence if Raymundo-Rafael raped the girl.
Pointing to the “completely normal exam” that Caldwell conducted, Smith said there almost certainly would have been evidence supporting the claim that Raymundo-Rafael raped the girl. The complete lack of evidence of any blood as well as none of the swabs from the rape kit coming back with biological material, Smith said, was not likely if she had been raped.
Smith’s testimony moved Hupp to conclude that while the commonwealth’s attorney proved “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Raymundo-Rafael did attempt to rape the girl, the prosecution failed to prove he succeeded.
Bearing on Hupp’s decision to find Raymundo-Rafael guilty was the fact that on the day of the crime, after the girl left his home, the defendant also left and fled the state. For 17 years, Raymundo-Rafael lived in Nebraska under an assumed name before he was arrested by federal officials and sent back to Virginia in 2017.
Raymundo-Rafael will appear in court at 9 a.m. Sept. 4 for sentencing.