By JULIAN AGUILAR
LAREDO MORNING TIMES
A Laredo man was found guilty in the 406th District Court on Thursday for his role in a human smuggling operation
that turned into a kidnapping and a series of torture and rape incidents.
Damaso Peche Jr. was convicted of three counts of engaging in criminal activity and three counts of aggravated
kidnapping by a six-woman, six-man jury.
Prosecutors convinced the jurors that Peche was implicit in keeping three illegal immigrants against their will at his
west Laredo home for three days.
Peche was also charged with five counts of aggravated sexual assault for his alleged rape of one of the women, but the
jury declared a mistrial on those charges after almost five hours of deliberation.
The women originally thought they were going to be transported to cities farther north, but were instead held captive at
Peche’s house. All three victims testified that Peche and Roberto Julian “El Gato” Rios and Raul “El Gordo” Ramos
held the women against their will. Two of the victims testified earlier in the week that they were raped, bound, gagged
and burned while at Peche’s house in the 2200 block of West Anna.
Thursday jurors heard Peche’s sister and father, defense witnesses, testify that they saw the three women at Peche’s
house, acting in a normal fashion and relatively calm. Peche’s attorney, Jose Salvador Tellez, repeatedly said that any
persons subjected to the crimes described in the women’s testimony would have pleaded for help or run at the first
opportunity, but that the victims did not.
Tellez also alluded to the fact that the three women had an incentive to continue with their stories because they were
offered visas. Prosecutor Norberto Cardenas asked the victims individually, however, if they knew they had a chance
at being deported once the trial concluded. They answered that they were aware of the possibility but chose to testify
Tellez also said that a majority of the testimony heard was about Peche’s co-defendants, and not his client.
“Eighty percent of the testimony has been about Rios and Ramos,” he said. “Where was my client at the time?”
Cardenas countered by asking the jury the same question but then answering it for them.
“Where was he? He was guarding the door,” he said, adding that Peche came in while the victims were being assaulted
and warned his friends to “keep it down.” He also countered Tellez’s argument that the women were testifying in
exchange for a visa.
“Why not stay in Iowa or New Jersey (where the women were after the kidnapping)? Why not blend into society?” he
asked. “Why come back here less than a mile away from the border?” The verdict, assistant prosecutor Uriel Druker
said, was proof that a person’s legal status does not matter when it comes to crime.
“I think this case shows that despite all the controversy in Webb County, a person’s immigrant status is not a factor,’
Tellez was adamant that his client was not as involved as Rios and Ramos, and added his hopes were that the jury
would see that during sentencing.
Guilty;Jury gives verdict in sex, torture case
The punishment phase of the trial is scheduled today at 9 a.m.