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Rape of 89-year-old Pasco woman sends 3 young men to prison

NEW PORT RICHEY — As they were waiting to learn their fate Friday, Carlos Fernandez and Luis Reyes described in their own words the April 2009 rape and robbery of an 89-year-old woman in Port Richey.

The boys were 15 and 14 at the time. That night, they said, they went to the woman's house with a 20-year-old friend, slipping in through a back door. They started going through the rooms, looking for pills and money. They might have just run off into the night with their loot if the victim hadn't awakened and confronted them.

" 'Who's in my house?' " Fernandez said she yelled, and that's when, he said, 20-year-old Johnathan Rodriguez dragged her back into her bedroom and told the others to hold her down.

As for the most unfathomable part of the crime — the woman was beaten and raped with a sharp object as she screamed in pain — Reyes and Fernandez said they didn't do that. They said they didn't even witness it.

But each had pleaded no contest to two counts of sexual battery, burglary and home invasion robbery and left his fate in the hands of Circuit Judge Michael Andrews.

The sentence he delivered Friday: 30 years in prison, followed by 10 years of probation.

"At the age of 14 or 15, one should know better, no matter what has happened to you in your life," Andrews said. "It's not just a failure to do right. It's an intentional wrong, and you should have known better."

Rodriguez also pleaded guilty Friday and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in a deal worked out with prosecutors, who said he was less culpable than his younger co-defendants. Contrary to Reyes and Fernandez's version of events, prosecutors said Rodriguez ransacked the house while the other two brutalized the woman.

The teens had previously gained access to the woman's home through their friend Sean Maus. Authorities say Maus, then 16, had earned the elderly woman's trust by helping her with chores around the home but was actually stealing from her. Maus was not present the night the woman was raped.

Maus pleaded guilty earlier this year to burglary and grand theft of a motor vehicle in a related incident, in which he and the other teens stole the victim's car a week before the attack. He was sentenced to 180 days in the Pasco County jail, followed by house arrest and probation.

Rodriguez didn't make any statement at Friday's hearing, but Reyes and Fernandez both expressed remorse for what happened.

"I think about that day every day. Right before I go to bed, I think about what I did," said Fernandez, who turned 17 on Friday. "She'll never know how truly sorry I am for what I did. I'm sorry, your honor. I deserve to be punished."

Said Reyes, who admitted to striking the woman with a flashlight: "I just really do apologize. I don't know."

Both boys wore looks of bewilderment, and Fernandez stared at the floor through most of the hearing.

Their contrition in court was contradicted by a recording of them made in the back of a Sheriff's Office patrol car right after their arrest. On that tape, Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said, the boys can be heard laughing and bragging that they won't be punished harshly because they're juveniles. They also made crude remarks about the victim.

"You thought it was funny, didn't you?" Halkitis asked Fernandez.

"Not funny, sir," he replied, his head hanging.

Reyes' mother wept as the sentence was handed down, then watched as her son fought with bailiffs as he was led out of the courtroom. From behind a large metal door, he could be heard yelling and banging on his holding cell bars.

"Oh, no, please," his mother wailed.

The victim, who is now 91, attended the hearing but did not speak. Barely 5 feet tall, she wore headphones over her white hair to hear what was being said.

Kathy Cornwell, an advocate for the victim, said the woman still experiences trauma from what happened but is recovering.

"Due to her personality and her great spirit that this woman has, she has persevered through it all very well," Cornwell said. "She's very feisty, and I think that's what has kept her going."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Rape of 89-year-old Pasco woman sends 3 young men to prison 10/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 22, 2010 8:50pm]
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