Ketebengang is found not guilty


Carlos Kapileo Ketebengang, a 38-year-old environmental specialist accused of fondling the breasts of a then-12-year-old girl on Saipan in 2012, was acquitted yesterday of all charges.

After deliberating for less than three hours yesterday, the six Superior Court jurors reached a verdict finding Ketebengang not guilty of four counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree.

Carlos K. Ketebengang, 38, hugs his aunt outside the courtroom after he was acquitted yesterday of all charges in connection with the allegations that he fondled the breasts of a 12-year-old girl. (Ferdie de la Torre)

Carlos K. Ketebengang, 38, hugs his aunt outside the courtroom after he was acquitted yesterday of all charges in connection with the allegations that he fondled the breasts of a 12-year-old girl. (Ferdie de la Torre)

Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho, who decided on the misdemeanor charges, also found him not guilty of disturbing the peace. Camacho earlier dismissed three other counts of disturbing the peace.

Ketebengang appeared emotionless as judicial assistant Delia Salas Magfna read the verdict at 1:15pm. He also appeared calm as Camacho announced his verdict. Ketebengang, however, burst into tears when Camacho told him he is now a free man. He then hugged his counsel, Colin Thompson.

In deciding the remaining count of disturbing the peace, Camacho ruled that the government did not prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Camacho said no child should ever be afraid to come forward and report if he or she is being abused but in Ketebengang’s case, it is about credibility and that he finds the testimony of the girl, who is now 14 years old, not credible.

Camacho said the girl’s testimony in court is inconsistent with all her prior statements. He noted that depending on who the girl talked to, there were three, four, or even six incidents of touching her breast.

Camacho said the girl admitted in court that she lied to her teacher, to the police, and to the prosecutor about the case.

The judge said the mother testified that the family is strict about her daughter having a boyfriend and that her daughter was told to break up with her boyfriend.

Camacho said the girl admitted that she has had at least two boyfriends, one of whom the mother does not know about.

Camacho said piecing together the testimony of all five witnesses—the girl, the mother, the teacher, the police, and even the defendant—“a clear picture emerges.”

The judge said the girl went to school with a love mark on her neck, the teacher questioned her about the hickey, and she was evasive and reluctant to talk about it. The girl was then sent to the school counselor and the questioning continues.

Eventually, Camacho said, pressured by the repeated questioning and suggesting that someone was touching her inappropriately, the girl lied and stated that the defendant touched her breast. She then began to tell more lies to cover up the first lie, and eventually she is unable to keep her stories straight, Camacho said.

The judge noted that during the trial, information came out that the girl also made similar false allegations about her father and that, after an investigation, no charges were ever brought against the father.

Camacho said all four incidents are lies and one particular incident is a physical impossibility: The girl claims that face to face, Ketebengang put her in a bear hug with his left arm and, while spinning her around, used his right hand to touch her right breast.

As demonstrated by defense counsel Thompson during the closing arguments, Camacho said, it is physically impossible to perform such a maneuver.

The judge said that after hearing all the testimony, the case is simple and tragic—the girl has a boyfriend, the family is strict about her having a boyfriend, she got a hickey, and when questioned about the love mark she just named someone—in this case Ketebengang. Before the girl knew it, her attempt to deflect the inquiries about the love mark turned into a full-blown criminal investigation about someone touching her breast, Camacho said.

“We should never dismiss a child’s cry for help, especially if it is about sexual abuse. But we must guard against the rush to judgment without proper investigation, especially if it is about sexual abuse,” the judge added.

In an interview with reporters after the hearing, Ketebengang said justice has been served and that he is now a free man.

“My wife is my strength,” said Ketebengang shortly after he hugged her and other family members.

When asked why the girl raised such false accusations against him, Ketebengang said that, as he told the court in his testimony, he does not have a clue.

Now the case is over, he said he will continue working as an environmental specialist at the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality.

Thompson said he agrees with Camacho’s breakdown of the case as what they had presented to the jury.

“That’s the story that emerged from all the witnesses’ testimony,” Thompson said.

Each four counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The jury trial began on Monday and continued on Wednesday. The jurors started to deliberate on Wednesday afternoon and continued yesterday morning.

Assistant attorney general Clayton Graef prosecuted the case. Assistant attorney general Chester Hinds assisted Graef at the trial.

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

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