Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Florida man pleads guilty to false imprisonment of deaf-blind woman

From The Tampa Tribune in Florida:

TAMPA - The woman, deaf and legally blind, thought she was getting a ride from a friend.

The man, who speaks limited English, thought some strange woman was trying to bum a ride in his car.

She claimed he tried to abduct her from a bus stop and molest her. He said he was only trying to get her out of the car.

The bizarre story ended Nov. 9 when Luis Alberto Mendez pleaded guilty to a felony false imprisonment charge and a misdemeanor battery charge.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe sentenced Mendez to 364 days in jail for the misdemeanor. Mendez has been jailed on $50,000 bail since his arrest in February 2009, so has already exceeded the jail term.

Tharpe placed Mendez on probation for two years on the felony. He also ordered him to have no contact with the victim, undergo a sexual offender risk assessment and complete any recommended treatment.

The judge was following a plea agreement worked out between prosecutors and the defense.

Mendez, 51, was originally charged with kidnapping, attempted lewd or lascivious battery and misdemeanor battery.

Assistant State Attorney Kimberly Hindman said problems undermined the case: there were no witnesses; and no way to support or disprove either version of events.

Hindman said the 40-year-old woman went with Mendez willingly at first. Mendez had touched the woman's arm while she was waiting at a bus stop a Cypress Street and Dale Mabry Highway, leading her to believe a friend was offering her a ride.

Only when the woman was in the car and the sun lit Mendez's face did she realize her mistake. The woman has about 17 percent vision.

Hindman said the woman struggled to get out of the car, but Mendez grabbed her to keep her confined, touching her intimate parts.

Mendez's attorney, Maura Doherty, said it was a simple case of miscommunication, noting that her client can't speak English well – he had a translator during court proceedings.

Mendez told authorities he thought the woman wanted a ride and that she wouldn't get out of his car.

Police said the woman went to a convenience store and wrote the clerk a note saying she had been attacked. Officers found Mendez across the street when they arrived.

Hindman said the woman, who didn't attend the hearing, wanted Mendez to get a stiffer punishment.

"She's not at all happy," Hindman said.