Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Massachusetts: Rafael Lopez-Espinoza charged with child rape, animal cruelty

MASSACHUSETTS -- A Southfield man facing child rape and animal cruelty charges remains held on high bail based on concerns that he is a flight risk.

Rafael Lopez-Espinoza, 41, is accused of assaulting a girl, now 11, over approximately two years beginning in 2014. He has been held on $35,000 bail since his arraignment last week.

Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Rachael Eramo argued to keep high bail on Tuesday because Lopez-Espinoza is a Mexican citizen with close family ties to that country and because of the seriousness of the accusations and the potential penalties.

Eramo characterized the case against Lopez-Espinoza as strong and said the potential for him to flee the country was of "great concern," to the state.

Defense attorney Lori Levinson said her client was "shocked and appalled" by the allegations and "adamantly and vehemently" denies them.

She submitted affidavits in support of Lopez-Espinoza from a family member and people who have employed him and said, they too, were shocked by the charges.

Levinson said she's spoken to people who know her client and who said they've never seen Lopez-Espinoza exhibit any of the behaviors of which he's accused and never noted any discomfort or awkwardness from the alleged victim in the case when around him.

Eramo said the alleged assaults took place when the child was in Lopez-Espinoza's care while her mother was unavailable.

She said Lopez-Espinoza threatened to harm her mother and sister if she reported the abuse, Eramo said.

Lopez-Espinoza also hit and kicked the child's dog when it tried to intervene in one of the alleged assaults, she said.

The child reportedly disclosed the abuses in December, because she didn't want to keep secrets anymore, Eramo said.

She said biological evidence was collected via a search warrant and is being subjected to DNA testing.

Levinson suggested a cash bail of no more $3,500, noting her client and his family were of limited financial means and wouldn't be able to afford any more than that on top of the retainer they've already paid her for her services.

She also said results of DNA testing may take some time to complete and if those results exonerate her client, the time he spent held on bail would be time he could never get back.

She said the $3,500 would be more than sufficient to ensure her client's return to court and he would also agree to conditions of release, including GPS monitoring and home detention.

Levinson said her client did not leave the area even when he knew the accusations had been made, but before he'd been arrested.

"This is not a man who is going to flee," she said. "He wants to clear his name."

Lopez-Espinoza pleaded not guilty in Berkshire Superior Court on Thursday to three counts of rape of a child with force, six counts of assault and battery on a child under 14, four counts of intimidation of a witness, two counts of assault and battery and one count of cruelty to animals.

Judge John Agostini agreed to reduce the bail to $20,000 at Tuesday's hearing, but said the concerns about Lopez-Espinoza's ties to Mexico were too great to lower it to the level sought by Levinson.

Lopez-Espinoza is due back in court on July 26 for a pretrial hearing.

(Berkshire Eagle - Feb 21, 2017)