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In a recent letter and during a telephone interview this morning, Deputy District Attorney Barbara Romo explained why she hasn’t advanced the Joong Dae Cha sex crime case.
“I consider two factors in determining a case,” Romo said. “Is there enough evidence and is the victim emotionally able to go forward with the case.”
Romo explained that while there is sufficient evidence in the Cha case to move forward, the child’s mother has made it clear that her daughter is not emotionally strong enough at this time to withstand a trial.
Cha, 48, was arrested Aug. 22 and charged with eight counts of felony sex crimes involving a female child under 13 years of age. Four counts were first-degree felonies involving criminal sexual penetration and the other four were second-degree felonies involving criminal sexual contact.
There is no statute of limitations on first-degree felonies, Romo said, so the case can be prosecuted at anytime in the future.
“There’s no point in pushing the girl into something she’s not ready to do,” Romo said. “If she feels ready in six months or a year, we can move forward then – or she may never feel ready.”
The story of Cha’s arrest ran on the front page of the Monitor Aug. 24. A second story ran Sept. 18, after the DA’s office declined to prosecute the case within the 10-day time limit, which Romo refers to in her letter addressed to Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy and copied the Monitor.
Romo expressed consternation at what she called “misrepresentations to the media” made by Det. Shari Mills. She explained that while she told Mills she was busy, she did not say she was too busy to speak to her or too busy to bring the case before a grand jury within the 10-day time limit.
“What I did tell her was that, based upon what she told me, it did not meet the office’s criteria for a 10-day case,” Romo said. “As you know, and as she should know, we have very few grand juries convened in Los Alamos, so by necessity, only in extreme circumstances will a case be presented within the 10-day limit.”
The confusion between Romo and Mills may be attributed to two documents filed Sept. 8 in Magistrate Court by the DA’s office. One is a “Dismissal of Criminal Complaint” stating the complaint against Cha be dismissed without prejudice. The second document is an “Order of Release” giving police authority to release Cha from jail.
In her letter dated Sept. 18, Romo explained that the dismissal of charges in Magistrate Court is, “a routine practice in our office that is followed in all three counties for those cases where an arrest is made and the case is not presented to the grand jury within the 10-day time limit, which comprises, by the way, the vast majority of our cases.”
Romo added that such a dismissal does not equate to a declination of prosecution and that many of the cases are ultimately presented to grand juries.
The 10-day time limit has been a longstanding point of contention for LAPD officers who investigate, arrest and charge suspects, and are then ordered to release them because the DA’s office declines to present the cases to grand juries within the required 10 days of arrest.
This practice may improve beginning in January when presumptive District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco takes office. Pacheco recently told an audience during a candidate’s forum at Fuller Lodge that she has heard on the campaign trail how neglected by the DA’s Office Los Alamos County feels. “I’ve heard all that and kept it in mind,” she said.
Pacheco also mentioned meeting with Los Alamos Magistrate Judge Pat Casados about presenting preliminary examinations for felonies to Casados. The presentations would be open to the public, “So everyone knows what happens,” she said.
Torpy addressed the situation Monday, saying his interest is in the prevention of future crimes. “When a person is charged with multiple counts of sexual crimes and then ordered to be released without consideration of bond or anything else, that is not in the best service of justice,” he said. “Whether a person is released and absconds or is deported, they’re never going to be tried and that has been my issue all along with these 10-day hearings.”
Cha was not set free because Mills, who lead the Cha investigation, discovered his Korean visa was expired and that he had been living in the United States illegally.
Det. DeWayne Williams contacted INTERPOL and found he had outstanding warrants in Korea. When his case wasn’t presented to the grand jury within the 10-day time period, the police turned Cha over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Sept. 8. He was taken to an immigration camp in El Paso where he is awaiting possible deportation back to Korea.
If the time comes that the child is able to testify against Cha, Romo said a nationwide bench warrant would be issued from the grand jury.
It will be the responsibility of the originating agency, in this case LAPD, to contact federal agencies to determine his status or whereabouts at that time.