Rape case dropped after victim unable to testify
Prosecutors have dismissed sexual assault and robbery charges against a Nanakuli man who was accused of posing as a stalled motorist, kidnapping and raping a pregnant woman after she stopped to help him.
Deputy Prosecutor Thalia Murphy told the court last week that the state cannot proceed to trial this month against Wendell Rodrigues, 47, because the woman is unable to return to Hawaii to testify.
"We cannot make a case without her," Murphy said later.
The woman, who lives in American Samoa, has always expressed willingness to return to testify at trial, Murphy said. But when contacted recently to arrange for her return, she indicated she could not.
The woman, who lives paycheck to paycheck, has three children 3 years old and younger, in addition to school-age children, and cannot find someone to care for her kids. Her husband also cannot take off from work, Murphy said.
The case was dismissed "without prejudice," meaning prosecutors can refile the case. Defense attorney Walter Rodby had asked that the case be dismissed with prejudice so that the state cannot come back to charge his client, who Rodby says is innocent.
"The wrong man is on trial," said Rodby, citing discrepancies in the woman's description of her attacker, the absence of forensic evidence and police handling of the photo lineup.
Murphy said the woman picked Rodrigues out of a photo lineup, and an impartial grand jury found there was enough evidence to indict Rodrigues on the charges.
"This was a surprise to me" that the woman no longer was willing to return to testify, Murphy said.
According to prosecutors, the woman was driving on Paakea Road in Maili on Feb. 21, 2005, when she stopped for a man standing in the middle of the roadway. When she asked him if anything was wrong, he replied yes, pulled out a knife and jumped into her car. He made her drive to a nearby location, where he tried to rob her. When the woman picked up a metal rod she kept in the car and tried to hit him, he beat her and then sexually assaulted her with the rod, prosecutors allege.
Rodrigues was placed on supervised release initially after he made a plea to the court that he was innocent. But he got into in a fight with his brother, who heckled him about the charges, and was arrested for assault. He has been incarcerated since and is awaiting resolution of the assault case, Rodby said.