A Fairfax County judge Friday took the rare step of rejecting a proposed plea deal between prosecutors and a man accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a girl, saying the agreed upon three-year sentence did not “remotely reflect the magnitude of the defendant’s misconduct.”
“She’s a very courageous girl, a very brave girl,” the mother testified during what had been scheduled as a sentencing hearing. “You take her to a zip line and she’s the first one there. Now, she doesn’t want to do anything. There’s no fun. There’s no sparkle.”
In court, Bellows acknowledged the explanation by prosecutors that there were flaws in the investigation of the case. But he said the proposed plea deal was not in the best interest of justice.
The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sex crimes and is not identifying the mother to avoid indirectly identifying the girl. The victim was described in court as an extended relative of Amparado, who has no fixed address.
Bellows’s ruling comes the same week a different Fairfax County judge blasted prosecutors for a proposed plea deal in another case of child sex abuse. That judge ultimately accepted the deal, but told the victim that “your government has failed you.” Prosecutors defended the agreement, saying the punishment was in line with similar cases.
In court on Friday, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nathan Freier and Fairfax County public defender Bryan Kennedy said in the latest case that they reached the plea deal — one Freier termed “extraordinary” — because the Herndon police investigation into Amparado was deeply flawed. Freier said the issues were serious enough a trial might end in acquittal and he was trying to salvage the best outcome possible.
Freier said the detective handling the case had repeatedly been late in turning over exculpatory evidence and was unfamiliar with how evidence is handled in a criminal case. He also said a jury might not find the detective’s testimony credible.
In addition, Kennedy said the victim’s account had shifted over time and she had trouble remembering the alleged rapes at first. He called the investigation “pitiful” and “outrageous.”
“There is a lot going on in this case,” Kennedy said.
Herndon police declined to comment on those characterizations of the probe, citing the ongoing criminal case.
Ben Shnider, a spokesman for the Office of Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, said in a statement that the short proposed sentence reflected the case’s weaknesses.
“This plea offer does not reflect our view of the seriousness of the alleged crimes,” Shnider said. “It’s important to note that often times pleas are influenced by a host of issues — including the type of post-investigation failures by law enforcement that the judge detailed at length. Rest assured, these types of crimes are a top priority for our office, as evidenced by the fact that we created a dedicated unit to prosecute them.”
Bellows said a plea deal with a three-year sentence was not the correct remedy to challenges faced by the prosecution. The judge pointed out the gravity of the allegations against Amparado and the serious charges for which he was originally indicted.
The case began in December 2019 after the Herndon police received a report of sexual abuse against a child involving Amparado, Bellows said. An investigation followed and Amparado was arrested at Dulles International Airport in March 2020.
Bellows said Amparado was charged with raping the girl four times between the time she was in fifth and seventh grades. The alleged assaults occurred in a home and in the man’s car.
In addition, Bellows said he was allowing prosecutors to admit evidence of 13 prior bad acts at a potential trial, including allegations of another rape of the girl.
Bellows said the four charged counts of rape of a child under 13 each carried a maximum sentence of up to life in prison, but under the terms of the deal Descano’s office had agreed to amend two of the rape charges to lesser aggravated sexual battery counts and drop two of the rape counts if the plea deal was accepted. The proposed sentence was fixed at three years.
The plea deal also allowed Amparado to enter Alford pleas, meaning he did not admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors had enough evidence to obtain a conviction.
But Bellows said the case called for more, before rejecting the plea deal. At that point, Kennedy withdrew Amparado’s guilty pleas and raised objections to Bellows’s move. The case will now continue.
After the hearing, the mother of the alleged victim said she was pleased the judge rejected the plea deal.
“Three years is nothing,” the woman said.