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IN SEX ASSAULT OF MINOR CASE

Ex-prosecutor: Unethical for defense to tell court interviews with rape victim withheld

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Former assistant attorney general Betsy Weintraub said it is inappropriate—if not unethical—for assistant public defender Heather M. Zona, as the new lawyer for a defendant in a rape of a minor case, to tell the court that the recordings during an interview with the victim were withheld without first checking with her (Zona’s) predecessor.

In an email to Saipan Tribune over the weekend, Weintraub disclosed that the attorney of Joseph Seman Epina at the time she interviewed the victim in the case was assistant public defender Cindy Nesbit.

Weintraub said Nesbit was aware that she was going to be interviewing the victim beforehand and that she turned over all recordings to her immediately after the interviews.

“Ms. Nesbit subsequently viewed the recordings and we discussed them in detail,” she paid.

Epina, through Zona, asked the Superior Court last month to compel the Office of the Attorney General to produce recordings of interviews of the girl, who was allegedly raped in 2016 by the then-43-year-old Epina.

Zona also requested the court to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the existence and nature of any outstanding discovery.

Zona said the requested evidence and information are material to the defense and disclosure would be neither unreasonable nor oppressive to the government.

Zona said that at a recent evidentiary hearing concerning memory taint of the alleged victim, the girl testified she met with Weintraub on numerous occasions. Zona said the alleged victim testified that on some of those occasions the interviews were recorded on Weintraub’s phone.

She said until the girl’s recent testimony, such material had never been made known or available to the defense, even though it was requested and this case has been pending since March 2016.

Epina allegedly raped a then-12-year-old girl at her relative’s house on Saipan on March 12, 2016. The girl told police that it was not the first time that Epina sexually assaulted her.

The OAG charged Epina with sexual assault of a minor in the first degree, assault and battery, and disturbing the peace.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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