By Troy Torres
Louis Anthony Vargas is asking Presiding Judge Alberto Lamorena III to wipe away 13 rape charges against him. The judge heard arguments from Vargas's lawyer, and from prosecutor Christine Tenorio today on whether the government can bring him to trial for a second time following a botched trial in May.
The justice system isn't as black and white as the old cowboy and Indian sitcoms portrayed. In 2018, Guam police officers arrested Vargas, an ex-Airman, and the attorney general subsequently had him indicted on multiple counts of raping a girl known to him. She was 10, when he allegedly first raped her in 2016. According to the indictment, Vargas continued raping her until 2018, when she was 12 and until he was reported.
Vargas raped her vagina and anus with his penis and objects, had her orally copulate him, and touched her private parts and breasts, according to the indictment. A grand jury in 2018 charged him with 14 separate counts of first and second degree criminal sexual conduct. In May this year, a jury found him guilty of one count of second degree CSC, but did not reach a verdict on the remaining counts. Judge Lamorena scheduled a retrial for the remaining charges this month, but that has been put on hold.
"The trial actually caused more trauma than the incidents," Ms. Tenorio told the judge, referring to the victim and the toll the May trial took on her. According to the prosecutor, the girl has been seeing a therapist in the wake of the alleged rapes, and her therapist does not believe she is fit to face the man she accuses of raping her.
The sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees Mr. Vargas the right to face his accuser. That means, that if there is a new trial, the girl will have to face him in court.
"We want to wait until the victim is older and able to testify," Ms. Tenorio told the court.
But that same Constitutional amendment also guarantees Mr. Vargas the right to a speedy trial. So, both sides agree the existing charges in the indictment against Mr. Vargas should be dropped. But the prosecution wants the ability to bring the charges again.
"Double jeopardy is not in play," Ms. Tenorio said, as she argued for dismissal of charges without prejudice. Dismissing without prejudice allows the prosecutor to file charges in the future. If the judge dismisses the charges with prejudice, future charges cannot be brought. "There is no statute of limitations of these crimes. The charges still survive. This is about the victim's mental health."
Mr. Vargas disagrees.
"Having the trial later is prejudicial against my client," Vargas's attorney, Therese Rojas, told the court. She said the delay of a trial risks the unavailability of experts and other witnesses.
"What if witnesses and experts are not available in the future?" Ms. Rojas asked. "Mr. Vargas will no longer be able to raise the same defenses."
Ms. Rojas pointed out the age of the alleged incidents and the time it took for prosecutors to bring charges, and then to bring the case to trial.
"The incidents alleged began in 2016, the charges brought in 2018, and then the trial occurred in 2021," Ms. Rojas told the court. "Sex offenses against children should have been a priority for the government."
Ms. Tenorio said this has nothing to do with Vargas's right to a speedy trial, and everything to do with the mental health of the victim.
"For the victim's sake, we ask that this be dismissed without prejudice," Ms. Tenorio said, as she fought for the ability to be able to bring the charges back against Vargas when the victim is ready.
"The court will take this under advisement," Judge Lamorena said.
Mr. Vargas has been in jail for about three years, and he was convicted of one count of second degree CSC. If he is not tried and convicted on the remaining counts, which each carry a five year sentence, it is possible he will be out of jail in 2023. If tried and convicted on all charges, he faces a conceivable 70-year jail sentence.