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Sat, Feb. 29

Rape suspect pleads guilty
Suarez-Muniz doesn’t admit to crime

KINGMAN – A suspect pleaded guilty to raping a 15-year-old girl yet refused to admit he committed the crime despite DNA evidence that proved he did.

Oscar Suarez-Muniz, 30, accepted a plea agreement on Thursday in which he pleads guilty to felony sexual assault but does not have to admit he actually committed the act. It’s known as an Alford plea. In this plea, the defendant asserts his innocence but admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty.

He could be sentenced for up to seven years in the Arizona Department of Corrections and he is not eligible for early release. Three charges were dropped under the plea agreement, which also does not allow a judge to mandate an aggravated sentence.

County prosecutor Greg McPhillips said two of the dropped charges are similar enough to sexual assault that had the defendant been found guilty of all three, the sentences might have overlapped.

“My thought was I’m not really giving him a lot (in the plea) … because it’s just different ways to explain the same conduct,” he said. “There’s a danger in my mind that the judge is going to say, ‘this is all one course of conduct,’ and rightly so.”

The plea does not require Suarez to testify against his co-defendant, Juan Carlos Zubiate-Ortiz, 22, also charged with sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual conduct with a minor and kidnapping. Both men are citizens of Mexico who were living in Kingman when the rape occurred.

McPhillips said Suarez’s plea does not guarantee that Zubiate will plead also.

“I had biological evidence on this particular defendant. I don’t on the other,” he said.

According to police and court documents, on Nov. 22, 2004, the victim and a friend went to a party at a home in the 2600 block of Chicago Avenue.

The victim told police that the two suspects invited her into a bedroom. The door was locked behind her and the two men took turns holding her down and raping her.

Her friend said she was screaming at the suspects to let her go. Eventually, the bedroom door was opened but the two girls were not allowed to leave the residence until they threatened to break windows. They walked to a nearby store where they got a ride to a friend’s house and called the police.

McPhillips said the victim was examined that night and DNA evidence was found on her that belonged to Suarez.

Suarez denied ever having sex with the victim – a denial that he reasserted at his judgment hearing on Thursday. He is scheduled for sentencing on March 23.

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