By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

A former Keizer resident pleaded on his knees for forgiveness in front of a Marion County Circuit Court judge before being sentenced to nearly 23 years in prison on three counts of rape.

The charges stemmed from a 2007 incident involving Raul Xalamihua-Espindola’s taking of a then 11-year-old Keizer girl and then fleeing across the country before heading to Mexico.

Judge David Leith imposed the sentence Monday, June 6. Xalamihua-Espindola, 29, pleaded guilty to the charges in May.

During sentencing, Xalamihua-Espindola’s claims that relationships between older men and young girls in his native culture were commonplace were met with disbelief by Leith.

“Are you saying that, in your culture, taking an 11-year-old child from her home without parents permission to have sex with her is acceptable?” said Leith.

Raul Xalamihua-Espindola on his knees in front of Judge David Leith as he pleads for forgiveness. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Raul Xalamihua-Espindola on his knees in front of Judge David Leith as he pleads for forgiveness. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

“That happens at home and everywhere in our community in Zongolica. Yes, all of that is acceptable,” said Xalamihua-Espindola, who spoke with the assistance of two interpreters, one for English-to-Spanish and one for Spanish to his native dialect.

“To take a child and have sex with her without her parents permission (is okay?)” countered Leith.

“It is the custom, always. The norm. It’s just custom,” Xalamihua-Espindola said.

At the end of his statement to the court, Xalamihua-Espindola got down on his knees to beg forgiveness and the imposition of a lenient sentence. He claimed his parents relied on his wages for money.

“At this moment, I don’t know if (my parents) are able to eat or not. My last words, I’m getting on my knees, are to forgive me,” Xalamihua-Espindola said.

“It’s not my role to dispense forgiveness. That is for the victims of the crime to decide. My role it to determine … the appropriate sentence for the crimes that have been committed,” Leith countered.

Leith sentenced Xalamihua-Espindola to 100 months for each of the first two counts of rape. On the third count, Xalamihua-Espindola will serve 75 months consecutive to the first 200 months and 25 months concurrent to the prior sentences for a total of nearly 23 years. Upon release, he will be subject to more than a decade of court supervision and must register as a sex offender.

The victim and her family, who still live locally, did not attend the sentencing. Jeff Kuhns, deputy chief of Keizer Police Department, said the victim is “doing well.”

Closing the book

In April 2007, then 20-year-old Xalamihua-Espindola convinced his victim to run away with him from the Plymouth Drive apartment complex where they both lived in Keizer.

The pair set out to meet up with members of Xalamihua-Espindola’s family in Alabma, but changed course when they learned that authorities were planning to meet them after they stepped off a bus.

The victim called her family several times to reassure them of her well-being, but within two weeks, the calls were being traced to Mexico.

The girl was discovered in the remote Mexican village of Zongolica in September 2007 and retrieved by Keizer Police Sgt. John Troncoso and Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent Nancy Savage. While she was returned to her family, Xalamihua-Espindola eluded capture.

He was finally arrested in Zongolica and held for about two years before being extradited to the United States in December 2015. He had been awaiting trial since his return.

“Not once did the Keizer Police Department, or the many law enforcement partners who assisted, stop the investigation or our pursuit of justice,” Kuhns said.