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Commonwealth v. Largaespada

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 24, 2018

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JOSE LARGAESPADA, Appellant

          Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence July 11, 2014 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-51-CR-0005564-2010

          BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., PANELLA, J., and DUBOW, J.

          OPINION

          DUBOW, J.

         Appellant, Jose Largaespada, appeals from the July 11, 2014 Judgment of Sentence entered in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas after a jury found him guilty of Unlawful Contact With a Minor, Endangering the Welfare of Children, and Corruption of Minors.[1] After careful review, we affirm.

         The relevant factual and procedural history is as follows. In 2003, then 9-year-old M.L. ("Victim") and her siblings moved from Nicaragua to the United States to live with their father, Appellant, and their paternal grandmother. Appellant began sexually abusing Victim when she was 10 and 11 years old. Appellant would grab Victim, undress her, kiss her body, and put his penis inside her vagina at night while everyone else in the house was sleeping. See N.T. Trial, 4/3/13, at 107-17.

         In 2009, after returning home from visiting her Mother in Nicaragua, then 15-year-old Victim informed Appellant, "I don't want to do this anymore." Id. at 118. According to Victim, Appellant became upset, stated he wanted to "do it" with Victim, grabbed her, removed her clothing, pushed her onto the living room sofa, and touched her breasts and vagina. Id. at 119. Victim pushed Appellant off her and ran to the bathroom, where she texted her older brother. Victim told her brother about the history of abuse and current incident of abuse. Id. 120-21.

         Victim's brother came home, confronted Appellant about Victim's accusations, and angrily left. Within a week or so, Victim's brother rented an apartment and Victim moved in with her brother. See id. at 121-25. Approximately two weeks later, in September 2009, Victim reported the incidents to police and gave detectives a signed statement. Victim explained that she had not reported Appellant's conduct previously because she was afraid and did not think that anyone would believe her. Id. at 119-20.

         In October 2009, police arrested Appellant and charged him with, inter alia, Rape, Incest, and the above-mentioned charges. Prior to trial, Appellant filed a Motion to Pierce the Rape Shield Law in order to introduce evidence that Victim allegedly engaged in an ongoing secretive sexual relationship with her uncle in Nicaragua.[2] The trial court held three in camera evidentiary hearings at which Appellant presented:

(1) testimony from Victim's older half-sister, who knew of the relationship between her uncle and Victim, and testified that Victim and their uncle asked her not to tell anyone;[3]
(2) cell phone records showing frequent contact between Victim and her uncle in the weeks leading up to Victim's reporting of Appellant's abuse to police;
(3) testimony from Appellant's niece regarding sexual contact she had with Victim's uncle in Nicaragua in 1998 when she was 14 years old and the uncle was 37 years old; and
(4) limited, non-substantive testimony from the uncle.

         On July 13, 2012, the court denied the Motion after determining that the evidence Appellant wanted to present was not relevant.

         At trial, the jury heard testimony from, inter alia, Victim and her brother. Victim's brother testified about an incident where he returned home from a 4th of July party, opened the door, and witnessed Appellant on the living room sofa with Victim on top of him and both were not wearing pants. The brother was shocked and immediately left the house. Appellant told the brother he would never do it again and repeatedly asked the brother not to tell anyone. N.T. Trial, 4/3/13, at 167-171.

         Victim's brother also corroborated Victim's testimony and stated that he was at the movies when he received a text message from Victim that Appellant tried to touch her inappropriately. Victim's brother returned to the house to find Victim crying in the bathroom, confronted Appellant, and eventually moved out with Victim. Id. at 172-77.

         On April 8, 2014, the jury found Appellant guilty of Unlawful Contact with a Minor, Endangering the Welfare of Children, and Corruption of Minors.[4] On July 11, 2014, the trial court sentenced Appellant to 6 to 23 months' incarceration followed by 5 years of probation.

         Appellant filed a timely Notice of Appeal.[5] Both Appellant and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

         Appellant raises the following issues on appeal:

1. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying Appellant's Motion to Pierce the Rape Shield and prohibiting Appellant from introducing evidence that [Victim] fabricated the sexual assault allegations against Appellant in order to conceal and continue her ongoing sexual ...

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