Life without parole for Willmar, Minn., man convicted in alley sex assault
WILLMAR -- Jose Santoya Juarez, 52, of Willmar, was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for sexually assaulting a woman last summer in an alley near the Willmar Eagles Club.
The sentence, on a second-degree criminal sexual conduct charge, was handed down by Judge Kathryn N. Smith in Kandiyohi County District Court.
Juarez and several of his family and friends pleaded with Smith for mercy before the sentence was handed down. Juarez read a prepared statement asking for a reasonable prison sentence, plus a supervised release period, so that he could prove that "I'm not a menace to society," he said.
Ziola Perra, sister of Juarez, also pleaded for mercy. She was one of about 10 family members in the courtroom during the hearing. "I'm not saying my brother is an angel by any means," she said. "But he is a good man, a good father."
In August, Smith found Juarez guilty of four felony counts, including kidnapping, assault and criminal sexual conduct, during a court trial. Juarez did not seek a jury trial.
The judge also ruled that Juarez could be sentenced to life in prison because of his prior conviction for criminal sexual conduct in 1997 and because he removed his victim 209 feet into a small, narrow alley before assaulting her. Those two factors constituted the "heinous element" required by the state statute that allows prosecutors to seek life sentences for dangerous sexual offenders.
Juarez's attorney, John Mack, argued during the hearing that the statute was unconstitutional because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Juarez didn't significantly injure his victim, Mack argued, but faces a longer, harsher sentence than people convicted of first-degree murder.
Before she handed down the sentence for the July 27, 2010 crime, Smith called a short recess so that she could consider the Iowa and California cases that Mack cited in his motion.
Mack also argued that the county attorney's office had an "anti-Hispanic" bias because prosecutors never made his client a plea offer.
County Attorney Jenna Fischer argued there was no plea offer because it was a life sentence case that involved a two-time rapist who dragged a woman into an alley to sexual assault her and continued to assault her until other people pulled him away from her.
"What Mr. Juarez did was of grave public safety concern," Fischer said. "Race was not involved."
After returning to the courtroom, the judge denied Mack's motion and found that the cases he cited did not correlate appropriately to the Juarez case. She acknowledged the harshness of the life sentence, but noted the statute was enacted by the state Legislature to deal with dangerous sexual offenders.
The judge ruled against all of Mack's arguments and stated that the prosecutor had proven Juarez's guilt and that the defendant met the "heinous" portion of the statute with his prior conviction and the removal of the victim without her consent. Smith also found no basis for Mack's race allegation.
Fischer said after the hearing that she was pleased with the sentence. Mack stated in court, after the sentence was handed down, that he intended to appeal the case.
Juarez was given credit for 448 days already served in custody, ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and register as a predatory offender. Restitution was ordered to remain open for 30 days.