Man gets 8-12 years for sexual assault
Judge cites deterrence, premeditation and lack of remorse as reasons for rejecting probation deal
EVANSTON — Uinta County District Court Judge James Kaste recently handed down a precedent-setting prison sentence for a third-degree sexual assault conviction.
Jose Navarro Herrera, 48, of Evanston, was arrested in April of 2023 for sexually assaulting a local 19-year-old.
The assault took place in March of 2022 at the victim’s parents’ home, though the crime was not reported until December of that year.
She told Det. Scott Faddis that she was home alone when the defendant knocked on her door. Herrera initially told her he was there to visit the victim’s mother, then left when he was informed that she wasn’t home.
He then called the victim on the phone, instructing her not to tell anyone that he had stopped by, and then returned to the residence. The victim asked what Herrera was trying to deliver to her mother. He then said he wasn’t there for her mother, but for her, before trying kiss her, according to court documents.
The victim told Herrera that she did not want to kiss him and told him to leave, but he refused. Herrera then forced himself on the victim, groping her breasts, and told her to go to her bedroom.
He ended up forcibly moving her into her bedroom and onto her bed, and when she pleaded with him to stop, he said, “This will not take long,” according to an affidavit in support of arrest.
After the assault, the defendant threw a pair of sweatpants at the victim, instructing her to get dressed, gave her $50 and told her not to tell anyone, before leaving the residence.
Out of shame and fear, court documents state, the victim hid the sweatpants for several months, thus they were not laundered. When the victim and her family filed a police report on Dec. 19, 2022, the sweatpants were submitted to the Wyoming Crime Laboratory for DNA testing.
Herrera was questioned by Evanston police in February 2023, and said he’d never had sex with the victim. He claimed that the victim had made previous sexual advances toward him, but that he refused them. Herrera’s arrest affidavit states “the defendant was adamant he never had sex with the victim.”
When informed that a pair of the victim’s sweatpants were awaiting DNA results from the crime lab, Herrera changed his story, insisting that while penetrative sex was not performed, he’d been involved in another consensual sex act with the victim, court documents state.
However, the location of the DNA sample on the sweatpants did not corroborate Herrera’s version of events, and in March of 2023, the DNA was confirmed to be that of Herrera. He was arrested on April 24, 2023, and formally charged two weeks later.
Initially charged with first-degree sexual assault, charges were eventually downgraded to third-degree. A punitive plea deal was struck between Herrera’s public defender Jack Vreeland and Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson Kallas, consisting of a proposed sentence of not less than two years, no more than five years. The incarceration recommendation, however, would be suspended, and Herrera would instead receive three years of supervised probation, with court-imposed terms and conditions, and credit for time served.
During the Jan. 9 sentencing hearing, Herrera required the use of a Spanish-language interpreter, headphones and an iPad for translation.
Vreeland described his client as having a “long period of work,” no issues with drugs or alcohol, and no prior incidents of violence, other than an undescribed misdemeanor criminal activity several years ago in Ohio.
“He doesn’t have a history of violence or anything of that nature. This action was totally out of character for what he does,” Vreeland said at the hearing.
Vreeland also admitted that he knew the victim, and recognized that her family did not want Herrera to receive probation, but rather serve time behind bars.
“We would ask the court accept the agreement that the attorneys have presented to you, your honor, and allow him the privilege of having suspended prison time and being placed on a period of supervised probation,” Vreeland said, according to a transcript of the sentencing.
Herrera was given a chance to speak.
“I’m sorry for what I did,” he said. “I’m in agreement with the sentence that you give me.”
Kallas explained that the plea deal was offered to spare the victim the psychological upheaval of having to endure a trial.
“It is an emotionally stressful and damaging event to go through a jury trial,” the prosecutor said. “It requires victims to relive the events that are at issue in this case.”
The plea deal also did not prescribe offender treatment for Herrera; however, he was asked to submit to a psychosexual evaluation and enroll in an approved registered sex offender treatment program.
He was also not allowed to have contact with the victim, her family, or any persons under the age of 18, unless specifically approved by his probation officer and treatment provider. He would also be required to register as a sex offender. Victim counseling would have to paid for by Herrera, as well.
Both attorneys agreed to the set terms and conditions, and Vreeland closed with, “We’d just ask the court to accept the agreement as presented.”
Judge Kaste began by expressing that, while trying to decide Herrera’s sentence, he carefully reviewed the victim impact statements, the arguments of the counsel and the defendant’s statements. He’d also studied previous Wyoming cases, such as Deeds v. State from 2014, and Frederick v. State from 2007.
“There are several factors that suggest that probation might be appropriate,” he said, citing the defendant’s low risk to reoffend. Kaste highlighted Herrera’s positive work history employed at an oilfield for a dozen years. Kaste also mentioned the defendant’s stable residence, transportation and support system.
“Nevertheless, I do not agree that probation is the appropriate outcome here for several reasons,” Kaste continued, citing the severity of the crime. “Sexual assault is, by its nature … a severe and deplorable crime, always accompanied by violence, and the threat of violence or coercion. And here, at least, there was coercion and the implied threat of violence if the victim had resisted. And because the crime is severe, the injury is severe. … It surely caused her serious and permanent trauma. Mental harm associated with any sexual assault is probably worse and more long-lasting than the physical harm of a typical battery.”
Kaste continued, noting the premeditated nature of the crime.
“He went back to the victim’s house after he learned that she was there alone. This wasn’t a drunken miscommunication. This was purposeful and intentional,” he said.
Kaste said he felt that, while the victim’s age of 19 is legally an adult, she was “essentially a child and only marginally less vulnerable than someone who is years younger.”
Kaste also said Herrera took advantage of trust the family had previously put in him.
“Finally, I don’t think the defendant has really taken responsibility for his actions. He gave a carefully-crafted admission designed to explain away the physical evidence that his semen was [on] the victim’s sweat pants. I do not find the defendant’s self-serving and minimizing admission to be credible. I do not think he has truly taken responsibility for his actions or shown true remorse. … I, frankly, believe the defendant is remorseful that there will be consequences to him from this assault.”
Kaste concluded, “I believe that society has a strong interest in punishment of sexual assault. In fact, I do not think we, as a society, can or should tolerate sexual assault in any form ever, and I think that is why the legislature has authorized the imposition of such significant sentences for sexual assault. I think that a sentence that deters this defendant and others from victimizing others in the future and protects the public from this type of predatory behavior is more important than the defendant’s immediate rehabilitation.”
Kaste then sentenced Herrera to a term of no less than eight years and no more than 12 years, and he was immediately remanded into custody.
“The only reason that I think this sentence should not be even higher is the defendant’s minimal criminal history,” Kaste said.
Herrera will also be responsible for a variety of fees and surcharges, including to the Wyoming Victims Crime Fund. He has the right to appeal the sentence.