By Kelsey Givens
A jury found one man not guilty of inappropriately touching a 16-year-old girl, during an incident last year, after a brief two-day trial.
Marco Antonio Soto was on trial Dec. 20 and Dec. 21 for a single count of open and gross lewdness after he was alleged to have rubbed the teenager’s crotch for 20 to 30 seconds one afternoon over the summer while the two were sitting on a couch at his girlfriend’s home. Both Soto and the victim were living with Soto’s girlfriend at the time of the incident.
According to the declaration of arrest in the case, on Sept. 2 Nye County Sheriff’s deputies were called to a home in the 2300 block of McMurray Street for a report of open and gross lewdness.
When they arrived, the victim in the case told police that her guardian’s boyfriend had rubbed her vaginal area, without consent, approximately one month prior.
Police then asked Soto about the allegation, to which he initially replied he never touched the girl. Later, during another interview with a detective at the sheriff’s office, Soto admitted to rubbing the girl on the outside of her clothes under a blanket.
He was subsequently arrested on a charge of open and gross lewdness and on Sept. 11 charged by the district attorney’s office.
The defense argued that while Soto had admitted to the act during an interview with police, he should be found not guilty of the crime since there was the possible appearance, or at least mistaken appearance, of consent to the act when the girl didn’t immediately push his hand away or tell him to stop.
Prosecutor Ross Armstrong, however, argued that it was clear there was never consent for Soto to touch the teenager and that his actions were clearly unwanted as the girl did eventually push his hand away and left the room.
The jury heard from several witnesses in the case, including the victim, before handing down the verdict last Friday.
One of the first witnesses to testify was the 16-year-old girl at the center of this case, who recounted for the court what happened during the alleged incident.
She said on the day of the incident she had sat down on the other end of the couch where Soto was sitting, playing video games. Soon after, Soto reached across the couch and placed his hand in her lap.
After what both she and Soto believe was 20 or 30 seconds of him rubbing her inappropriately she pushed his hand away, got up and went to another room to play a board game with her brother.
When asked why she waited approximately a month before telling anyone what had happened between her and Soto, the girl answered that she was uncomfortable talking about what had occurred.
“I wasn’t comfortable telling anybody about that,” she said.
She did eventually tell her friend a month later about what happened, but police weren’t called to investigate the incident until the girl’s grandmother found out about it.
Though Soto’s attorney, Harry Kuehn, submitted to the court that what his client did was morally wrong, he painted a picture for jurors through testimony from the victim’s guardian and character witnesses, that the girl may have only brought this incident to the attention of authorities as unwanted touching because her guardian wouldn’t let her go shopping.
“She’s an untruthful person,” Natalia Domenique-Rodriguez, who had met the girl through her friend, the victim’s guardian, said.
“She’s a liar,” another teenager who goes to school with the 16-year-old testified.
Robin Martinez, Soto’s girlfriend and the victim’s guardian at the time of the incident, told the court that her ward “always got in trouble for lying a lot,” during the time she stayed with her.
Shortly before police were notified about the incident, Martinez testified she had refused to let the teenager go shopping with her friend in Primm because she had lied to her a week prior about what she was doing.
“She had lied to me the week before … I had let her go to Vegas to go shopping and she came home around 11 p.m. with nothing,” she said.
After being told she was not allowed to go shopping with her friend, the girl allegedly left with her friend anyway, without permission, and knew she was going to be in trouble when she returned home.
Martinez testified she believed the girl had made the story up because she had not given her permission to go out with her friend.
As the prosecution and defense addressed the jury in their final arguments, they both focused not on the girl’s character, but rather if there was any kind of consent, or perceived consent when Soto allegedly touched her.
“Both the defendant and the victim in their description of what happened said he reached over and rubbed her underneath the blanket, but on top of her clothes and he rubbed her intentionally,” Armstrong said. “Both the defendant and the victim said she didn’t ask for it … One should not assume there’s consent.”
Kuehn argued that while his client had admitted to touching the girl, he did not commit the offense of open and gross lewdness as the girl never asked for him to stop, at least giving the appearance that she was consenting to his touching.
“A 16-year-old person can consent to sexual touching. Morally, maybe as I indicated earlier it should be 25 years of age, but at 16 in Nevada you have that discretion … If you can put yourself in the situation as it was described and testified to, sitting on the couch not together, she’s dressed the way she is and he’s playing Wii and his hand makes that journey across no man’s land. Nobody has to say anything. Absolutely no one has to say no, nobody has to say stop, but how does it appear? Maybe to Marco, she’s 16 and she’s old enough, she has the capacity to understand, and I move my hand over there and I don’t hear anything, I don’t hear nothing. And then I linger there for 20 or 30 seconds and I don’t hear anything. Then finally my hand is pushed away and what happens? Everything stops,” he said.
After hearing from both sides, the jury was given the case and deliberated for about an hour before coming back with a verdict of not guilty.