IN SEX ASSAULT OF A MINOR CASE

OPD seeks ex- prosecutor’s taped interview of alleged victim

The Office of the Public Defender wants the Superior Court to compel the Office of the Attorney General to produce recordings of interviews of a female minor who was allegedly raped by a 43-year-old man.

Assistant public defender Heather M. Zona, counsel for Joseph Seman Epina, also asked the court to conduct 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.

The evidence and information, Zona said, will facilitate a fair, efficient, and just disposition of the charges against Epina.

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

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

She said the defense has only been provided with two videotapes of interviews of the alleged victim, with one of those tapes cut off in the middle.

“None of the recordings from the telephone has been produced,” Zona said.

Zona added that, on Aug. 7, 2018—the second day of the evidentiary hearing concerning the girl’s tainted memory—the prosecution provided the defense with a report dated July 15, 2018, documenting an interview conducted by assistant attorney general Teri Tenorio on April 24, 2018.

She said no explanation was made as to why this information was not made available sooner.

Zona said the report reflects the girl repeatedly telling the prosecution she did not remember the alleged events but then also changed her story substantially.

Zona said the timing of production of the report, as well as the prosecution’s failure to provide other recorded interviews, suggests the prosecution has not fully complied with its obligations.

The defense counsel said this violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.

Zona said if the government refuses to disclose any evidence or information ordered by the court, or if it has doubts as to the propriety of disclosure, the prosecution’s duty is to submit the questioned material to the court for review.

To date, she said, the government has provided two videotaped interviews of a former prosecutor interviewing the girl, as well as a videotape of another witness.

Zona said the defense maintains its request for any and all videotaped interviews conducted of the girl.

She said these materials go to the credibility of the alleged victim, as well as the events alleged to have occurred as there is only one complaining witness.

She said the materials also are relevant to the extent they reflect the prosecution engaging in misconduct, such as suggesting to the girl that the prosecution will try to keep certain material from the defense, as is the case on one of the videotaped interviews.

Epina is charged with allegedly raping a then-12-year-old girl on Saipan on March 12, 2016. The girl told police that it was not the first time that Epina had sex with 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 veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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