Man who took 11-year-old to Mexico sentenced to 23 years

Article author: 
Whitney M Woodworth,
Article publisher: 
Statesman Journal
Article date: 
Monday, June 6, 2016
Article category: 
Article Body: 

Almost a decade after he took an 11-year-old Keizer girl, who he claimed was his "girlfriend," to Mexico, a 28-year-old man was sentenced to 22 years and 11 months in prison.

In 2007, Raul Xalamihua-Espindola, then 19, fled to Zongolica, Veracruz, Mexico, with the girl. The crime took Xalamihua-Espindola and his victim across the United States, down to Mexico and eventually back to Oregon.

Xalamihua-Espindola pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree rape and appeared for sentencing before Marion County Circuit Court Judge David Leith on Monday.

At his sentencing, Xalamihua-Espindola spoke through two translators — one translating English to Spanish and the other translating Spanish to Nahuatl, a Central Mexican language also known as Aztec.

The victim and her family declined to attend the sentencing, but Deputy District AttorneyTobias Tingleaf said they were satisfied with the resolution reached. Tingleaf recommended three consecutive sentences, totaling to 25 years, for Xalamihua-Espindola's charges.

Members of the Keizer Police Department sat in the courtroom, finally witnessing a resolution to the years-long investigation.

"The detectives involved were relentless and did not give up," said Tingleaf, who was a law clerk in Marion County at the time of the girl's disappearance. "We are here today because of their work."

Keizer police began their investigation after the girl left a note for her parents saying she ran away with her boyfriend. The note said not to worry about the girl's well-being, but it didn't match her handwriting, according to an affidavit filed in August 2007.

The girl's friends told police she had a boyfriend named "Raul." Police determined a man of that name lived in the same apartment complex as the victim and identified him as Xalamihua-Espindola.

The girl was rescued and returned home a few months later, but Xalamihua-Espindola eluded capture until two years ago. He was eventually captured and held in a Mexican jail. In December 2015, he was extradited back to the United States.

It is often difficult to bring criminals back to the United States to face prosecution, Tingleaf said.

Keizer Police Deputy Chief Jeffrey Kuhns attended the trial along with several investigators involved in the case.

"The defendant’s capture in Mexico, extradition back to the United States and being sentenced to prison for the crimes he committed over nine years ago in 2007 is a great example of the investigators' resolve to hold this criminal accountable for his actions and bad choices," Kuhns said. "Not once did the Keizer Police Department or the many law enforcement partners who assisted stop the investigation or our pursuit of justice."

Xalamihua-Espindola, who initially pleaded not guilty, pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree rape in May. One count of rape and one count of first-degree custodial interference were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Through his translators, he said he did not know what he was doing was a crime. In Mexico, young girls marrying older men is a common custom, he said.

"Are you saying that in your culture, taking an 11-year-old from her home without her parents permission to have sex with her is acceptable?" Leith asked him.

"Yes, all of that is acceptable," Xalamihua-Espindola replied.

He dropped to his knees and pleaded for forgiveness from Leith.

"It's not my role to dispense forgiveness," Leith said after hearing the defendant's appeal for mercy. "That would be for the victims of the crimes to decide."

Xalamihua-Espindola's attorney, John Storkel, argued for a shorter, concurrent sentence of eight years and four months, citing his client's lack of criminal history, his poor, humble background, reference letters, cultural differences and the two years he spent held in a Mexican jail.

Leith said he wanted the sentence to match the enormity of the crime.

"In our culture, these are among the most serious crimes that can be committed," he said, adding he did not believe abducting, kidnapping and raping children would be acceptable in any culture.

Leith sentenced Xalamihua-Espindola to eight years and four months for each of the first-degree rape counts. All but two years of the sentence will run consecutively. Upon his release, he is required to register as a sex offender.

First-degree rape is a Measure 11 offense and carries a mandatory minimum sentence of eight years and four months.