A Miami man who was wanted in Jefferson Parish since 1985 until his arrest 1 1/2 years ago in the alleged rape of a Kenner woman in his West Bank home was acquitted Thursday.
A Jefferson Parish jury deliberated about 1 1/2 hours in finding Victor Gonzales, 51, innocent of aggravated rape, which carries a mandatory life sentence in prison. Gonzales had been jailed in lieu of $500,000 bond since his November 2008 arrest.
Judge Ross LaDart of the 24th Judicial District Court ordered Gonzales released from the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna.
Gonzales, who immigrated to the United States during the 1980 Cuban boat lift, returned to Florida on Friday morning by bus, “obviously very happy to be reunited with his family,” said his attorney Thomas Calogero, who defended the case with Ralph Barnett.
“The jury worked very diligently and paid very careful attention,” Calogero said. “I believe they came to the correct verdict.”
The woman, then 23, accused Gonzales of raping her at gunpoint in his Gretna apartment on July 19, 1985, after she said she relented to his repeated requests for a date. The Sheriff’s Office claimed Gonzales fled the area shortly after the rape.
But Gonzales, who was 25 at the time, testified the sex was consensual. He said he moved to Florida two days later, after she refused to move there with him. He has since married, became a father and opened a business, not knowing he was wanted on a rape charge, Calogero said. The warrant was discovered when he was renewing his driver’s license in Florida, Calogero said. It was unknown why the warrant didn’t surface sooner, including during his regular contacts with federal immigration officials, Calogero said.
It wasn’t until the trial this week that the woman, now 48, said that Gonzales also forced her to perform oral sex. Gonzales’ attorneys argued that a doctor who performed a rape exam after she reported the alleged crime specifically reported “he never forced her to perform oral sex.”
The attorneys also argued she lacked credibility because she failed to mention to the jury that she and Gonzales went to bars and drank alcohol before the alleged rape.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Smith, who prosecuted Gonzales with Scott Schlegel, argued the woman was believable.
“She told the truth to the best of her ability,” Smith told the jury of seven women and five men in closing arguments Thursday.
Paul Purpura can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3791.