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Gomez pleads in stranger rape case, fighting extradition to Texas in murder case

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news Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Esequiel Gomez Jr., 21, of Texas, pleaded guilty Thursday to an amended charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for sexually assaulting a teenage girl last summer near the footbridge over the railroad tracks in Willmar.

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Assistant County Attorney Dain Olson noted for District Judge Donald M. Spilseth that the charge against Gomez would be reduced from first-degree level and that his 117-month sentence, nearly 10 years, would be an upward departure from state sentencing guidelines.

Gomez's sentencing date is July 24 in Kandiyohi County District Court. Gomez has been held in the Kandiyohi County Jail on $1 million bail since October, when he was extradited to Minnesota from Texas after DNA testing linked him to the July 29, 2012, sexual assault.

Gomez is also charged with capital murder for the August 2011 killing of an elderly woman in Tulia, Texas. During the hearing, he told the judge he intends to fight extradition.

"I could be facing the death penalty," Gomez said. "I want to stay away from the state of Texas."

In addition to the criminal sexual conduct case, Gomez also faces a felony charge here in Minnesota of being a fugitive from justice. That matter was not discussed during Thursday's hearing, except that Spilseth noting that Texas officials have been actively seeking extradition and that the judge doesn't control the extradition process once Gomez is in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

According to previous information from Kandiyohi County Attorney Jenna Fischer, the then 14-year-old victim identified Gomez as her attacker in a photo line up prepared by Willmar police. The girl reported she had been sexually assaulted around 2 a.m. July 29 in the area of the walking bridge near High Avenue Northeast in Willmar.

A police officer had encountered and identified Gomez in the nearby park at Robbins Island about an hour before police were called about the sexual assault.

The girl also submitted to an examination at Rice Memorial Hospital. The DNA evidence recovered from her was examined by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and then was entered into the nationwide database of crime scene DNA.

According to the Tulia Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab linked DNA evidence collected from the scene of the murder of Imogene Harris to the DNA collected in the sexual assault investigation in Willmar.

Harris, 84, was found dead in her residence on Aug. 14, 2011, in Tulia, Texas, in Swisher County in the northern panhandle of the state. The cause of death was blunt force trauma.

In addition to the Harris murder, Texas investigators have linked Gomez to another crime, the assault of an elderly person in Hico, Texas, in June 2008.

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