A former translator for U.S. troops in Iraq wept and proclaimed his innocence Monday as he was sentenced to 16 years-to-life in prison for his role in a brutal sexual assault that left a Colorado Springs woman battling for her life.
Sarmad Fadhi "Levi" Mohammed, 26, choked back tears and repeatedly said he didn't touch a woman he was convicted of raping at a June trial.
"I don't even know what I'm doing here," he sobbed during a more than 10-minute address in which he acknowledged misleading Colorado Springs police during their investigation, but said he told the truth after seeing photographs of her injuries.
Mohammed is among five men, all Iraqi immigrants, who were charged in the brutal crime - two on suspicion of carrying out sex acts, and three for lying to police about it. The victim, a woman in her 50s, was sodomized with such force that she could have died without back-to-back emergency surgeries to repair internal injuries, authorities say.
The assault occurred July 22, 2012, shortly after the woman met Mohammed and the others and accompanied them to their apartment for drinks.
While prosecutors blame the injuries on another man, Jasim Mohammed Rasin Ramadon, a jury convicted Mohammed of rape and other crimes on allegations that he forced his penis into the intoxicated woman's mouth. The jury also found him guilty of orchestrating a cover-up in which he and others claimed the woman left their apartment with a stranger.
All five co-defendants are Iraqi immigrants who came to the United States after assisting U.S. service members in Iraq, either as translators or intelligence sources.
Three of the men were convicted or pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and have since been sentenced. Two co-defendants appeared for the sentencing and spoke on Mohammed's behalf.
The case against Ramadon, who faces a slew of sexual assault charges, has been held up as prosecutors fight to overturn a ruling by the judge that tossed out evidence in the case.
Appearing by telephone in court, the victim recounted her ordeal in haunting detail, disclosing that despite her medical care, she is unable to control her bowel movements and must wear a protective garment.
She has kept the assault from her parents and her son, worried they wouldn't be able to bear the details, and said her personality has changed along with her passions. Once a competitive karaoke singer, she is now fearful of crowds and cannot perform.
"I have scars on my belly to remind me of this event," she said.
Mohammed's supporters described him as hard-working and kind - a natural leader who helped find jobs and apartments for other Iraqi immigrants and welcomed then into his home until they got on their feet.
"When Sarmad had a dollar, everyone had a dollar," said Carolyn McDole of Ecumenical Social Ministries of Colorado Springs.
Mohammed, who lived with McDole and is considered a part of her family, sometimes served as a translator for Iraqi families who went to the nonprofit for help, she said.
At trial, Mohammed's attorneys tried to persuade the jury the charges were the result of a botched investigation and statements that a friend of Mohammed's made to police as the result of a coercive interrogation.
Mohammed had faced 16 to 48 years to life. In handing down the penalty, El Paso County Judge Theresa Cisneros said the harshest punishment should be reserved for the person who caused the injuries, and she noted that under state law, Mohammed will be on parole for 20 years to life in the event he is released from prison.