By JASON BUCH
LAREDO MORNING TIMES
A jury on Monday found Robert Julian “El Gato” Rios, 23, guilty of four counts of aggravated sexual assault, two
counts of aggravated kidnapping and one count of engaging in criminal activity.
All seven counts are first-degree felonies, punishable by a minimum of five years in prison and up to 99 years or life.
Prosecutors last week abandoned one charge of aggravated kidnapping and two charges of engaging in criminal
Balloons used as props during closing remarks hovered over Rios’ head as 406th District Court Judge Oscar J. Hale
read the sentences, ranging from five to 38 years. The sentences will run concurrently, so Rios’ time served essentially
will be based on the longest sentence, the 38 years for engaging in criminal activity. He was fined $1,500 as well.
“The jury obviously got it right based on the evidence presented and the circumstances of the offenses,” said Assistant
District Attorney Roderick Lopez of the verdict.
But there was no winner, Lopez said. The victims will still have endured the abuse they suffered at Rios’ hands and
Rios’ family will suffer from having him in prison.
The jury heard testimony all last week from the victims — a 23-year-old woman from Peru, a 22-year-old woman
from the state of Michoacan and a 19-year-old from Michoacan — that Rios, along with Damaso Peche and Romel
“El Gordo” Ramos, held the women at Peche’s home on Anna Street and subjected them to physical abuse.
The two women in their 20s testified that Rios forced them to have sex with them. All three are undocumented
Peche was convicted earlier this year of aggravated kidnapping and engaging in criminal activity and was sentenced to
40 years in prison. Ramos is awaiting trial on similar charges.
The abuses suffered by the three women, whose names were withheld from court proceedings to protect their identities,
will stay with them for the rest of their lives, Lopez said during his closing arguments.
“When this trial is over, all of us will be able to walk away,” Lopez said to the jury. “But the victims in this case will have the physical scars, the emotional scars.” The sentence showed that Webb County offers justice to everyone, said Assistant District Attorney Uriel Druker.
“I think the decision of the jury sent a message that the victims of crimes will have access to the justice system despite their race, ethnicity or nationality,” Druker said. “And those that perpetuate violent acts against innocent people will pay dearly.” Defense attorney Roberto Balli, who represented Rios, said he, Rios and Rios’ family were disappointed
in the verdict.
“As much as I respect this jury’s verdict, there are times when the jury gets it wrong, and this is one of those times,”
Balli made a motion for retrial and said he intends to appeal the decision.
“We disagree with the jury’s decision,” he said later. “We respect it, but disagree with it. We feel an injustice was
committed in the 406th District Court.” Testifying during the sentencing phase, Rios maintained his innocence, telling
Guilty on 7 counts;38 years for Robert Rios, accused of assault, kidnapping jurors he would have cut a plea deal if he had committed the offenses.
Druker said Rios’ refusal to accept responsibility and past criminal history were evidence that he deserved the
maximum sentence on the charges.
“He’s graduated now from the point of no return,” Druker said during the sentencing phase. “He’s not coming back.
What he did to these women is something that shouldn’t be done to anyone.” Throughout the trial, Balli maintained
that the women were making up the allegations so they could remain in the country under special visas that allow
undocumented immigrants to testify about certain crimes and give them the opportunity to apply for permanent
But during closing remarks he focused on what he said was the failure of the prosecution to present an adequate case
Balli brought out 15 helium-filled balloons, nine with the names of witnesses for the prosecution written on them and
six with references to evidence he said had not been adequately presented.
The witnesses the prosecution brought forth failed to present useful evidence and were intended largely to prejudice
the jury, Balli said, popping each balloon in turn.
The words “NOT GUILTY!” appeared on television and projector screens in the courtroom as Balli walked with the
six remaining balloons to the prosecutor’s table, Holding them over the attorneys’ heads, he said law enforcement and the prosecutors had not worked hard enough to collect the evidence needed to convict Rios.
“What did they do?” Balli said. “They let it all go. They let the evidence get away.” He cut the balloon’s’ strings using a pair of scissors, and they floated to the ceiling.
For the prosecution’s part, Lopez told jurors Rios was the leader of the three men. He derided Rios’ assertion that sex
he had with the Peruvian woman was consensual, saying she and the other women went along with the abuse because
they were afraid. He brandished a realistic-looking shotgun he said the men had used to threaten the victims.
“It’s reasonable to believe that she was scared, that she was fearing for her life,” Lopez said.
He then presented the jury with pictures of the women’s bruised bodies, depicting marks that they testified came from
being hit with a belt and burned with a crack pipe. Snatching a belt off the prosecution’s table, Lopez slammed it on
the rail in front of the jury, describing the physical abuse the women endured.
The crimes committed against the women are unacceptable in the United States, Lopez said, and allowing them to stay
in the country serves a valuable purpose.
“The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, that our great country has an interest in prosecuting these types of individuals,” he said. “Our streets, our streets of Laredo, that’s where this happened. Do you want this in your community?”