A former coach with the Questa School District was granted a conditional discharge on Tuesday (Dec. 4) after pleading no contest to two counts in an eight-count indictment that charged him with the …
Updated Dec. 6 at 11 a.m.
A former coach with the Questa School District was granted a conditional discharge Tuesday (Dec. 4) after he pleaded no contest to two counts in an eight-count indictment charging him with the rape of a 14-year-old girl in 2016.
Defendant John Rael pleaded no contest to one count of bribery of a witness, a third-degree felony, and one count of false imprisonment, a fourth-degree felony.
Related to those charges, the state argued that Rael had paid off his teen victim and briefly held the young woman against her will while he coerced her to keep quiet about the alleged sexual assault.
While not an admission of guilt, a no contest plea indicates that the defendant gives up their right to challenge a case, whether through trial, appeal or an alternative plea, and still carries consequences.
In this case, Rael will be placed on a four-year period of probation, will be barred from attending events with children under 18 – with the exception of relatives – and will complete 20 hours of community service. He will not, however, be listed as a sexual offender.
The other six counts originally filed against Rael, including two counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor in the first degree, were dismissed as part of the plea reached on Tuesday.
The agreement was struck nearly seven months after a jury failed to reach a consensus as to whether Rael had raped the teen on June 9, 2016.
The young woman testified on the first day of the trial that she had become friends with Rael, who lived near her family’s home in Questa. She said she sometimes worked for the older man in exchange for a small wage.
On the day of the alleged crime, she said Rael had invited her to accompany him to fix a leak at The Veterans of Foreign Affairs office in Questa. There, she said Rael raped her, and described the ordeal in painstaking detail in court. She said Rael later paid her an amount beyond what was normally exchanged for her labor and asked her to keep what had happened a secret.
In spite of her testimony, Rael’s attorney, Alan Maestas, succeeded in casting doubts as to the girl’s allegations.
Maestas relied on a lie detector test that Rael had passed, slight variations in the victim’s story and the absence of evidence, including DNA, cell phone data and a journal the victim said had contained a record of the alleged rape.
He also noted that the victim’s family had waited five months before reporting the incident. He suggested they had done so as a retaliation to their daughter’s suspension from the Questa School system, where Rael had volunteered as a coach.
During closing arguments, Tim Hasson, a prosecutor with the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, attempted to persuade the jury of the unreliable nature of polygraph tests. He noted that several states do not allow the tests to be admitted as evidence in criminal cases.
Ultimately, the jury was divided when the trial ended, with seven jurors finding Rael guilty, and five finding him not guilty, a split that made it difficult for Hasson to pursue a retrial, he noted on Tuesday at the plea conference.
“It’s a significant change in approach by the state obviously from the indictment as charged,” he said. “It’s not the outcome the state wanted; it’s a compromise, the kind of compromise that sometimes happens after a mistrial.”
The victim and her parents attended the conference, and took turns addressing the court after the agreement was reached.
“You hurt me. You made me feel less than what I am,” the young woman said. “All I want is justice for what you did to me. I want you to man up and say what you did. I want you to stop lying to me, your wife, your family and to the court system, and most of all yourself.”
Except for acknowledging the terms of the agreement and the potential penalties should he violate his probation, Rael remained silent.
In a rare moment of personal reflection, District court Judge Jeff McElroy said he was disappointed that the jury had not reached a verdict. He suggested that Rael owed the victim and her family an apology.
“I wish you would have in some way been able to apologize for anything that might have happened,” he said, addressing the defendant.
Before calling a recess, McElroy addressed the victim and her family.
“I feel in some ways that the court system has failed,” he said, “and yet, know that these attorneys have done a lot of work on these cases to have them proceed through the court system, and for that, there is ultimately some resolution of the case.”
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