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Juvenile suspect in Willmar gang rape ordered to adult court

WILLMAR — Another of three young men accused of participating in a 2017 gang rape in Willmar has been ordered to stand trial in adult court.

Sergio Jesus Moreno-Leiva, 19, of Willmar, was a juvenile when the alleged crime occurred. After a hearing on the matter a week ago, Moreno-Leiva was referred to adult court Wednesday.

His first appearance as an adult in Kandiyohi County District Court is scheduled for April 26.

Jesse Jose Lopez, 18, of Willmar, was sentenced this week to a stay of adjudication, which means the conviction of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony, could be purged if he complies with the conditions of his probation.

Lopez was placed on supervised probation for five years with conditions that include attending a sex offender program, not using or possessing alcohol or drugs, no contact with females under the age of 18 without approval of his probation officer and no contact with the victim.

A third defendant, Alex Omar Valdivieso Chavez, 19, also of Willmar, had pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct in juvenile court, with a recommended sentence similar to Lopez's. However, the Kandiyohi County Attorney's Office asked to have his case referred to adult court, because juvenile court jurisdiction on him would be limited, as he is already 19.

Chavez's lawyer asked to delay his next court appearance until after a May 8 immigration hearing.

All three young men were originally charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving the use of force causing injury, and two third-degree criminal sexual conduct charges for using force/coercion and because the alleged victim was younger than 15 and more than two years younger than the alleged perpetrators. In the Lopez and Chavez cases, two charges were dismissed, and they pleaded guilty to a charge having to do with the age of the girl.

According to court records, a girl who was 14 at the time reported that she had been walking home from summer school when a vehicle approached her, carrying several people she knew. She got into the car, and they went to the home of one of them.

The men allegedly provided alcohol to the girl. A group of people were in a bedroom when Lopez and Moreno-Leiva allegedly held her down and took her clothes off. She told authorities she heard one of the men refer to a "one-time opportunity."

According to the court documents, the girl told authorities that the three men held her down and sexually assaulted her.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340