Monday, March 25, 2013
C.A. Upholds Officer’s Conviction for Sexual Assault
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Police Department officer who detained a 19-year-old woman and forced her to have sex with him, after having earlier solicited sex from an 18-year-old he arrested, was properly convicted of multiple offenses, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled Friday.
Div. Three rejected claims that Russell Mecano could not be convicted of soliciting the first woman for purposes of prostitution because he never actually offered money for sex. “We find that Mecano’s words, coupled with his overt acts, constituted sufficient evidence of the crime,” Justice Richard Aldrich wrote.
The court also rejected claims that the conviction involving the first woman—who had a history of mental illness—should be thrown out because her testimony was “a jumbled mess,” as the trial judge put it; that allowing a supervisor at a DNA lab to testify about tests performed by non-testifying subordinates violated the Confrontation Clause; and that the verdict was tainted due to discovery violations.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry sentenced Mecano to eight years in prison in 2011. The ex-officer, now 45, is serving his sentence at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Mecano was indicted in October 2008, five months after the second incident. The woman, identified only as Alexandria H., said she and some friends, three of whom were minors, were picked up at Pacific Palisades Park, where some in the group were smoking marijuana.
The woman testified that after finding marijuana and a pipe in her purse, Mecano blatantly asked if she would be willing to have sex in order to avoid being taken into custody and having her car impounded.
She said she might be willing, she testified, out of terror and without intending to go through with it. Mecano told her they could meet at a Holiday Inn when he got off work at 6 a.m., she said.
He then led her toward a building, saying he needed to find out if she was “for real,” and assaulted her with her back up against the building. She asked him to stop, she said, saying they could resume later.
He allowed her to leave, she said, after they exchanged phone numbers. After leaving, she informed Pasadena police and her mother.
Detectives later came to her home and took swabs for DNA testing. They took swabs from Mecano’s police car and from his right hand, and were unable to rule him out as contributor.
Following the investigation, Mecano was indicted in connection with the assault on Alexandria H. and with soliciting sex seven months earlier from Taylor P. The woman, a transient, said Mecano paid her $200 in cash following her arrest to have sex with him.
Mecano gave the woman the money and told her to meet him at the same Holiday Inn that Alexandria H. referred to. Instead, she took a cab to the beach and later reported the incident.
Investigators confirmed that Mecano took $200 out of an ATM at the station before the woman was released. Prosecutors presented evidence that when the woman failed to appear, Mecano obtained the name of the cab driver, called and asked him where he had taken her, and went looking for her.
Taylor P. was unable to recall many details of the incident, and the defense moved to strike her testimony. Perry declined to do so, but gave a limiting instruction allowing jurors to consider prior statements of the witness that had been admitted into evidence, but only to the extent that she remembered having made them and “adopted” them in her trial testimony.
In an unpublished portion of his opinion, Aldrich said the limiting instruction was adequate.
Jurors found Mecano guilty of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution from Taylor P. and three felonies in connection with the attack on Alexandria H.—sexual battery by restraint, sexual penetration by force or duress, and sexual penetration under threat by a public official.
In the published portion of his opinion, Aldrich said there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to establish Mecano’s intent to pay Taylor P. for sex.
The justice wrote:
“After repeatedly flattering her, he used his position to get her released on her own recognizance. He took the unusual steps of calling a cab for her and giving her $200, an amount greatly in excess of the cab fare. He told her to meet him at a Holiday Inn, where she should shower. Had Mecano expected nothing in exchange for the money, he would not have told her he would be ‘[expletive] pissed’ if she ‘burn[ed]’ him for it. The money thus made explicit any ambiguity behind Mecano’s flattery: she was to meet him at the motel and have sex with him in exchange for the $200.”
Attorneys on appeal were William J. Kopeny for the defendant and Deputy Attorneys General Steven E. Mercer, Joseph P. Lee and J. Michael Lehmann for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Mecano, 13 S.O.S. 1455.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company