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Rape victims confront attacker

Two women who were sexually assaulted for seven hours in 1991 tell Fernando Maldonado in court that now they can get on with their lives.

January 17, 2007|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

Nearly 16 years after they were gang-raped in a Los Angeles apartment, two women confronted an attacker in court Tuesday, telling him that with his conviction and imprisonment, they can finally get on with their lives.

Fernando Maldonado, 35, also known as Hector Santos Padilla, was convicted in November of 100 counts of gang rape and sexual assault for the Feb. 8, 1991 attacks. Sentencing, which was set for Tuesday, was postponed because of late paperwork.

Erica, now 39, delivered her victim-impact statement anyway, speaking directly to her tormenter.

"I'm taking my life back and I'm going home, and so are you Mr. Maldonado, you are going home to be with people of your own demeanor. Enjoy it," she said at a sentencing hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The Times generally does not publish the full names of sexual abuse victims.

The other victim, Karla, now 38, was leaving her 23rd birthday celebration when Maldonado and an accomplice kidnapped the women at gunpoint. She recalled what Maldonado told her the morning after the ordeal: "Forget about it. It wasn't a big deal. This happens to women all the time. Get over it."

"I've had almost 16 years of not enjoying the day of my birth and I can now put them behind me and gain closure," she said.

Maldonado faces between 500 and 1,082 years in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors will be asking for the maximum penalty at the sentencing Feb. 5.

The two women were leaving Cafe Sushi near the Beverly Center with plans to meet their friends at Carlos' n Charlie's, a club on Sunset Boulevard near the House of Blues.

Erica had celebrated a little too much and was vomiting on a quiet neighborhood side street when the girls were forced by two men into a car and taken six miles away to Maldonado's third-floor apartment near MacArthur Park in Los Angeles.

Maldonado and an accomplice invited two other men, MS-13 gang members, into the apartment, prosecutors said. The four men continually raped and sexually assaulted the women for about seven hours.

At one point, Julian Roberto Chacon, who was sentenced in 1994 to 225 years in prison for the crime, urinated in Karla's mouth, pointed a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.

"It's your lucky day," he said, laughing. In the next room a man and two women, one a roommate, did nothing while the victims screamed.

"You're in a gang neighborhood environment, and it's totally normal, almost to the point of being expected of tenants and fellow building dwellers," said Det. Andrew Purdy with the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley Division. "You're not going to get any cooperation from anybody," he said.

Purdy was working the sex crimes unit in Hollywood in 1991 and has handled the case since then.

After eluding police, Maldonado, an illegal immigrant from Honduras who had been deported in 1990, was picked up in 2002 by the U.S. Border Patrol near Amado, Ariz.

During the trial, the defense had argued that the women were Maldonado's cocaine clients and the sex was a consensual part of a drug party that night. Ken Nakamura, deputy alternate public defender, said he plans to file an appeal.

The case was featured on "L.A.'s Most Wanted" television series in 1991 but has received little media attention since.

"I'm asking for a high term, just in terms of sending a message to anyone who is thinking of doing this to young girls out at night," Deputy Dist. Atty. Beatriz Dieringer said. "The word has to get out that this is impermissible."

A third suspect in the case was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1991 and the remaining suspect, identified by Maldonado as his uncle, remains at large.

Both Erica and Karla said their experience has changed them forever.

"I felt, up until the incident, that I had a big mouth, that there wasn't anything anybody could do to me -- I was tough," Karla said. "It's sad to say a girl should never leave a house alone at night, but you should be with somebody else. You're never safe. I mean, I was with Erica."

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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