DA: Rape suspect confesses

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

February 18, 2006

A Hood River Valley High School junior accused of rape could spend the next two decades of his life behind prison bars.

Steve Fisk, school principal, is struggling to help students cope with Tuesday’s arrest of Ruperto Gonzaga-Gama, 18.

“The most appropriate thing for us to do right now is to talk and listen. And to try to make sense of it — although that is very difficult,” he said.

Helping Hands Against Violence is frustrated about media broadcasts that the female victim “sustained no serious injuries” from being subdued at knifepoint and then tied up.

“There needs to be acknowledgement of what the victim went through. You can’t always see the injuries of a rape on the outside of the body but they are there,” said Melissa Trejo, bicultural sexual assault prevention specialist.

One day after his arrest, Gonzaga-Gama, a Mexican national, was arraigned on five Class A felony charges. He is being held in NORCOR on two counts of first degree burglary, two counts of first degree robbery and first degree rape.

In addition, Hood River County District Attorney John Sewell has leveled a charge of vehicle theft against the teenager, a Class C felony.

Gonzaga-Gama faces up to 26 years behind bars if convicted of these crimes. There could be additional charges filed against him following Sewell’s presentation of the case to the grand jury on Friday. At 11 a.m. Feb. 23, Gonzaga-Gama will be formally arraigned on any new charges that result from that presentation.

During the Feb. 15 hearing, Sewell informed Circuit Court Judge Paul Crowley that Gonzaga-Gama had confessed to the rape and other crimes.

“He was questioned by police and he admitted that he had committed the acts described to the court,” said Sewell.

After asking Crowley to post a high bail because Gonzaga-Gama posed a flight risk, Sewell outlined the probable cause for his continued detention.

He said the suspect had entered an unlocked door at the Collins Road residence shortly before 9 a.m. on Feb. 14. He had brandished a knife at the woman, who was home alone. After intimidating her with the weapon, Sewell said Gonzaga-Gama allegedly forced the victim to have sex and then demanded money and property.

After dumping the contents of her purse on a table and pocketing the available cash, Sewell said Gonzaga-Gama discovered the car keys.

According to Sewell, after he had confirmed that the keys belonged to the SUV parked outside, the suspect loaded up video games and the Xbox belonging to the victim’s children, who were away at school.

Once Gonzaga-Gama had driven away, Sewell said the woman called 9-1-1 and provided information about her attacker. The stolen vehicle was spotted minutes later behind a farm shed off Imai Road by Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler, who had piloted a plane over the Dee Flat area for an aerial search that would aid his deputies and assist police officers on the ground.

Sewell informed Crowley that Gonzaga-Gama was still sitting inside the stolen vehicle with the electronic equipment — and the knife — when law enforcement authorities converged on the scene.

“Given these variable charges and the potential consequences and nature of these charges, I am imposing a $100,000 cash bail,” said Crowley.

Trejo was present at the arraignment of Gonzaga-Gama and spoke afterward about the trauma faced by a rape victim. She said it is important that the community show strong support for her, especially as her identity becomes known.

According to Trejo, it took a lot of courage for the woman to report being raped. She said many sexual assault victims are afraid to come forward because of the personal nature of the crime.

“She doesn’t need to feel embarrassed or ashamed of herself. She was forced to have sex against her will and that brings a lot of trauma not only to her body but to her emotions,” said Trejo.

Fisk said the student body has expressed “shock, disappointment, sadness and confusion” about the incident. He said staffers have met with students from each of Gonzaga-Gama’s classes. And made themselves available to any teen who feels the need to talk out his/her feelings.

“We are just going to continue to dialogue with the kids and take it one day at a time. They are responding very appropriately,” said Fisk.

Sheriff’s Detective Gerry Tiffany said DNA evidence from the Gonzaga-Gama case will be compared with evidence from the Jan. 12 rape of a Markham Road woman. He would not speculate on whether law enforcement officials expect a match that ties Gonzaga-Gama to the other recent sexual assault.

The male suspect in the Markham Road incident reportedly attacked the female victim outside of her home and then fled down the roadway. The victim told deputies that she had gone outside about 5:30 a.m. to investigate the cause of her dogs barking.

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