Prisoner sentenced for rape of fire volunteer
By James Tilson
MANTI—An Idaho man serving a prison term on felony drug charges was sentenced to 116 days in jail, along with another three to four years in Idaho prison, for raping a female volunteer at the Coal Hollow Fire.
Ruben Hernandez, 28, originally charged with a first-degree felony in the incident, had pleaded guilty to sexual battery, a Class A misdemeanor, on Dec. 19, 2018.
Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels said he agreed to let Hernandez plead to a misdemeanor in order to save the victim from testifying at trial.
“The victim is dealing with a very complicated emotional situation, with significant trauma,” said Daniels. “Even though I was comfortable with taking this case to trial on the facts, the victim would have been re-traumatized by testifying in court.”
During the sentencing, Daniels told Judge Wallace Lee he wanted the court to sentence Hernandez to 270 days in jail, without any credit for time already served. The presentence report recommended Hernandez receive credit for time he had spent in the Sanpete County Jail.
Daniels argued the report did not put enough emphasis on aggravating factors in the crime. Hernandez committed this offense while he was already serving time in Idaho prison for felony drug charges. On top of that, Hernandez has a lengthy criminal record. And most important, the victim had suffered “great harm” from the crime.
The victim, Misti Waters, also addressed Judge Lee. She told Judge Lee the damage from the assault was more than the physical harm she received. The mental harm, according to Waters, was much more than the physical. “He got inside my head,” Waters told the judge, to the point that she resorted to self-harm and thoughts of suicide. “I want everyone to know how this affected me.”
Hernandez’s defense attorney, Richard Gale, told Judge Lee even though Hernandez only pleaded to a misdemeanor, the case would have a significant impact on his Idaho sentence. Hernandez was scheduled to be paroled after he got back to Idaho from the fire. As a result of his conviction, his parole has been revoked and he will serve another three and a half years in prison after he is released from Sanpete County.
In addition, Gale argued Hernandez at first thought he was only committing a violation of his release conditions and did not think the act was non-consensual. Gale said Hernandez now understands his error and is remorseful for his actions. Gale asked the judge to give Hernandez credit for the time he had served in Sanpete.
Judge Lee told Hernandez, “In this day and age, I firmly believe sex offenses are the most difficult for the victim to overcome.” However, Lee felt the recommendation from the presentence report was satisfactory, and sentenced Hernandez to 270 days in jail, with credit for the 154 days he had already served.