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Judge stays on rape cases involving Iraqi immigrants

LANCE BENZEL Updated: February 26, 2013 at 12:00 am

Accused by a former juror of showing bias after verdicts were read in a high-profile rape case, an El Paso County judge on Tuesday rejected prosecutors’ call to hand the matter over to another judge.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Theresa M. Cisneros ruled she will continue to preside over the cases of five Iraqi immigrants linked to a brutal sexual assault.

Shortly after her ruling, prosecutors dismissed the sole remaining count against Yasir “Mike” Jasim, who was found guilty of two misdemeanors in January after a two-week trial but acquitted of three of the four felony counts charging him as an accomplice for lying to police about what he saw.

The last count was slated to be retried beginning Tuesday.

Lead prosecutor Kelson Castain, however, dismissed the charge after unsuccessfully asking Cisneros to postpone the trial.

The judge refused the request, saying that Arabic translators had been flown from Ohio “at great expense to the state.”

The question of Cisneros’ neutrality arose after prosecutors received a blistering two-page, single-spaced letter in which Odessa Lazard, one of the jurors from Jasim’s partial mistrial, leveled accusations against Cisneros, including that she called police and prosecutors “incompetent” during a private meeting with the jury and also nodded in affirmation when told that some on the panel had reached the conclusion the victim “got what she asked for.”

Another juror, Latisha Mapu, disputed the allegations to The Gazette, calling the idea Cisneros showed malice toward the victim, “The most outrageous lie ever.”

Cisneros, who was required by law to accept the allegations at face value rather than disputing them, ruled that Lazard expressed opinions unsupported by fact.

In handing down her ruling, Cisneros repeatedly emphasized the phrase “assuming the claims are true.”

The disputed comments were made Feb. 8 while Cisneros was meeting with the jury following Jasim’s partial mistrial.

The judge’s comments on Tuesday showed little evidence of ill will toward the victim, a woman in her 50s who nearly died and who spent weeks with a colostomy bag while recovering from her injuries.

During back-to-back sentencing hearings that followed her ruling on the issue of her recusal, Cisneros blasted Jasim, 21, and his nephew, Mustafa Sataar Al Feraji, 22, for witnessing the woman’s attack and doing nothing to intervene.

Under Colorado law, there is no legal obligation to intervene in a crime. Both men were accused of lying to police to protect their co-defendants.

Calling the rape “morally reprehensible” and “one of the worst things I’ve ever heard,” Cisneros at point grew tearful while discussing the victim’s injuries and called a recess of several minutes to collect herself.

At one point, she asked Jasim, “Why not intervene?”

Jasim, who said he was “very sorry” for his “lies,” told the judge he didn’t realize he was witnessing a crime: “She didn’t scream,” he said through a translator. “She didn’t ask for help. … I didn’t have any clue, actually.”

Jasim and Alferaji were each present during the attack but admitted they concocted a false version of events for police detectives. Both later corrected the errors and provided police with factual details, their attorneys maintain.

Jasim, who faced up to six months in jail, was sentenced to six months of unsupervised probation, 24 hours of community service, and to pay court costs and restitution. Alferaji was sentenced to time served: He spent six months jail on a $250,000 bond before pleading guilty in the case.

All five men were brought to the United States with the help of military members after serving with U.S. troops in their native Iraq, some as field translators embedded with combat personnel, some providing intelligence.

Jasim’s attorney, Phil Dubois, said his client, a former field translator for the Marines, wishes to join the service on active-duty. Alferaji is also considering a career in the military, according to his attorney, Tracey Eubanks. Jasim is Alferaji’s uncle.

The biggest unknown in the men’s future: Whether they will be deported for their misdemeanor convictions for false reporting.

Dubois said deporting any of the five would amount to a death sentence because Iraqi extremists have promised retribution.

Trials are pending for two men charged with carrying out the assault. Jasim Mohammed Hasin Ramadon, 20, who is accused of violating the woman with his entire hand as she lay unconscious on a couch, is awaiting an appellate ruling after Cisneros tossed out statements he made to police.

Sarmad Fadhi Mohammed, 26, accused of forcing the woman to perform oral sex, goes to trial March 18.

Ali Mohammed Hasan Aljuboori, who wasn’t present during the assault, is to be sentenced March 25 after pleading guilty to allegations he also misled police.

Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366 Twitter @lancebenzel

Facebook Gazette Lance Benzel

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