It took a teenage girl from Twin Cities more than two years to report that an adult relative had raped her.
In the felony trial that followed, she testified for hours — only to see the case dismissed due to a rare technicality. She wasn’t too surprised.
“The system has failed us women,” she said in an interview on Friday. “That’s what you expect.”
The Star Tribune does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent. Now 17, court documents falsely claimed she was 14 at the time of the rape; she was 13. The man was 32 years old and temporarily lived with her family.
Most rapes go unreported. Those who are rarely tried. Of every 1,000 rape cases, 13 will be referred to a prosecutor and seven will result in a conviction, according to crime data analysis by RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Watching her case come to a jury trial, this teen overcame all obstacles and obstacles. But when it was dismissed earlier this month by Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty after the prosecutor admitted to lying to the judge, chances are this 17-year-old had no chance: attorneys and legal experts say that such layoffs almost never occur.
She said the defendant, Marco Tulio Rivera Enamorado, was staying at her family’s house when he assaulted and raped her in her bedroom one day in June 2019 when her parents and siblings were away.
“Sometimes our homes are the most dangerous places,” she said. “We can’t avoid trauma… It just creeps up on us every chance it can get.”
It was September 2021 when she reported the rape. The charges were filed in March 2022 and Rivera Enamorado’s trial began in the first week of this year.
While the teen was on the stand to testify, an attorney for the victim witness sitting next to her mother slipped a note to prosecutor Catherine McEnroe. Judge Peter Cahill questioned the contents, fearing it would violate his order to detain witnesses.
The note reportedly read “location?” – a reminder to the district attorney to establish for the record that the crime occurred in Hennepin County. McEnroe instead told Cahill that it was a reminder to pronounce a name correctly. She then had the lawyer forge the note to conform to the lie, according to Moriarty, who said the note was “inconsequential.”
After taking office days earlier, Moriarty, in consultation with her new team, decided to drop the case. Rivera Enamorado was released. His charges of premeditated sexual conduct were dropped. He skipped a recent trial and his whereabouts are unknown.
McEnroe is on administrative leave pending an ongoing investigation. She had 90 cases that the law firm says are being handled and reviewed by her supervisor.
Moriarty said dismissing the case was a last resort, but she stands by the decision that shocked the Twin Cities legal community. Some lawyers and legal experts have avoided open criticism, calling it an unusual situation with no playbook. Others were critical.
A juror sitting for the trial wrote a letter to the editor, saying that the unpunished rape of a teenager “constrains extraordinary weight in the public interest.” He said the choice to discharge means that either an innocent defendant is not acquitted or a guilty defendant is released.
Public defender Kellen Dotson, who represented Rivera Enamorado, said he could have joined Moriarty in calling for a mistrial. But he felt it was not in his client’s best interest.
Dotson said once the immediate shock wore off, he “immediately began calling around and getting guidance from senior lawyers in the state and beyond,” including his law professor father. No one remembered similar circumstances, he said.
Moriarty, a former public defender and law professor, said she had never encountered a prosecutor who lied so blatantly. She and the staff considered a continuance request that would allow another prosecutor to hear the case. But it would likely be a weeks-long wait for a transcript of the process up to that point, she said.
Dan Mabley is a former judge in Hennepin County who was a deputy attorney under Moriarty’s predecessor, Mike Freeman. He said McEnroe could have been punished but allowed to continue pursuing the case, “because her behavior only affected her reputation, not the fairness of the trial.”
Former Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said she may have made a different choice, but was hesitant to object to the choice made. “I think it’s very hard to criticize or applaud the decision when we’re not in her position to make that decision,” she said.
Cynthia Alkon, a Texas A&M law professor, said it is admirable that a new district attorney is taking such a strong stand in an unusual situation.
“When you’re in a period of leadership change, it’s important that the lawyers within the firm understand what is and isn’t acceptable,” she said. “In this community still healing from the murder of George Floyd, it’s important to make it clear that this agency will not lie.”
Alkon said the downsides are also big. The dismissal clearly hurts the victim, which shows how the justice system can cause pain. And if people don’t trust prosecutors, victims are less likely to come forward in the future.
Moriarty agreed that the firing could have a chilling effect on victims. She said she believes it is an isolated incident, not a reflection of an office required to maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct.
“Because we never want to let these kinds of victims down again,” she said.
In this case, the victim hid what had happened to her for years. If she had been silent, she said, “maybe lives wouldn’t be so ruined now.”
“My parents … have to wake up with that thought, or sometimes they can’t sleep with that thought, like my daughter was abused in our own home,” she said. “Maybe even the prosecutor, you know, would have done her good.”
She hears people tell her that none of this is her fault.
“But I don’t believe that and that’s worse, knowing it’s not your fault, but you just can’t believe it.”