SD sexual assault trial begins in Hebbronville

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

HEBBRONVILLE- Testimony began Wednesday in the trial of Abel Morin Jr., a San Diego man charged with sexually assaulting a mother and her daughter last year.

Morin is standing trial on a variety of charges, including aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in connection with a July 22, 2006 incident in which he allegedly broke into a San Diego home, sexually assaulted a mother and daughter and kidnapped the daughter.

In his opening arguments to the jury, prosecutor Jon West said it would be a "fact-intensive" trial, with witness testimony, DNA evidence and a confession from the defendant.

"After the conclusion of the trial, we believe there's going to be no choice but to find the defendant guilty on all counts," West said. "Hold us to our burden of proof of proving our case beyond a reasonable doubt, and then hold yourselves to your own responsibility and find him guilty on all counts."

The first person to testify Wednesday was the adult victim, who was referred to in court documents and during the trial under the pseudonym "Yolanda."

She told the jury that during the early morning hours of July 22, 2006 she was asleep in a bedroom and her 16-year old daughter was asleep in the living room, when she awoke to find a man lying on top of her, strangling her.

"I thought I was dreaming and something was choking me," Yolanda said. "The man told me my daughter was OK and, and that I needed to be quiet."

He continued strangling her until she passed out, and when she woke up her hands and feet were bound with wire.

The man, who she identified as the defendant, sexually assaulted her, Yolanda said.

"I thought he was going to kill me," Yolanda said. "He was kind of laughing. It was funny to him."

The man went into the living room and returned to her bedroom some time later, at which point he took money from her purse and took her car keys. Yolanda said he forced her daughter to leave with him and left her tied up in the bedroom.

Once she was alone in the house, Yolanda managed to crawl to a nearby window and broke it with her forehead. She told the jury that she called for help and was ignored by two passers-by, but a third person responded and called police.

The second witness called was "Yolanda's" daughter, who is identified under the pseudonym "E.C." for the purposes of the trial. She was 16 years old at the time the incident occurred, and said she first knew something was wrong when she woke up in the middle of the night to see a man standing over her bed, which was situated in the living room of the home.

Speaking through tears with a soft voice through most of her testimony, E.C. told the jury the defendant told her not to scream and forced her to remain on a couch in the living room while he went into her mother's room. He returned some time later and forced E.C. to remove her clothing, and then raped her, she told the jury.

After a long ordeal in which he made her take a shower and then went back and forth between Yolanda's room and the living room, he eventually forced the teenager to leave the home with him. She told the jury he forced her to lie down in the back seat of the car while he drove to a remote location. In a barely audible voice, she told jurors she tried to look out the windows and to look into the front seat to gather information.

"I was trying to keep track of where we were going, where we were headed," E.C. told the jurors. "I was trying to see who it was, to see if I could identify him."

Although she noticed a tattoo on the assailant's neck, she was unable to determine where he took her, she said.

Once they reached a secluded location, he again forced her to remove her clothing and sexually assaulted her, she said Wednesday. He eventually freed her and she walked more than three miles back to her mother's home, where she was met by police and taken to a Corpus Christi hospital for evaluation. She and her mother later picked the defendant, who was living across the street from their home at the time of the attacks, out of a photo lineup.

The third witness to testify Wednesday was Javier Gutierrez, who was an investigator with the San Diego Police Department in July 2006 and who was the first officer to arrive at the home where the assaults are alleged to have occurred.

In his testimony, Gutierrez told the jury he arrived at the home and found Yolanda tied up, screaming for help. He freed her and led efforts to find E.C., until she arrived at the home later that afternoon. A large portion of his testimony Wednesday also focused on the layout of the home and the process of cataloging evidence.

He also told jurors he arrested Morin after receiving a call the day after the incident occurred regarding suspicious activity at Yolanda's home. Upon arrival, he found Morin on the property and, after a short foot pursuit, arrested him.

Testimony from Gutierrez was expected to continue today.

Morin is represented by defense attorney David Towler.