On a Tuesday morning in late September, two 16-year-old girls snuck away from their North County high school. Chica wanted to go home, Nina later said. “I understood that she was going to go home to change shoes.” The girls, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, planned to return to school during the lunch hour.
Nina and Chica, both slender Latinas with long black hair, took a bus to the Mariposa Apartments in Vista, where Chica lived. On the bus ride they shared a bottle of water that Chica carried in her big purse. Later Nina said that she felt strangely “dizzy” after drinking the water.
The girls arrived at the large apartment complex on Smilax Road at about 11:30 a.m. A tall, thin teenaged boy named Giovanni was in front of the apartments. He was 17 years old but turned 18 just days later. The girls talked with Giovanni for a while. Then, instead of going to Chica’s apartment so that she could change her shoes, the three teenagers walked to apartment 132, where 23-year-old David Perez lived.
Nina said they never did go to Chica’s apartment, and when Nina said that she wanted to go back to school, Chica told her, “Later.” So they stayed.
Sometime after three o’clock Nina used Chica’s cell phone to call her mother to come pick her up. When Nina’s mother arrived, she was disturbed to see her daughter’s condition. Nina appeared drunk, and it looked as though she was wet or her hair was wet. The girl slept during the car ride home, and after they arrived, she threw up. Nina told investigators later that she vomited several times that day and that the vomit smelled like alcohol.
Nina admitted that she drank from a large bottle of vodka while she was in the apartment that afternoon. She claimed that Chica told her to drink it. Nina said she took only two sips and she also smoked marijuana.
The next day, September 29, 2010, Nina complained to school authorities that she did not feel well and that she was experiencing pain. She underwent a medical examination, and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department began an investigation. Nina told investigators that she became dizzy after she drank a cup of water that Chica gave her while they were at the apartment. She said she lost consciousness. In the following hours, she woke up intermittently, and she remembered being handled by men. At one point, Nina said, she remembered waking up in the shower. She said she was naked and Giovanni was standing behind her in the shower and touching her.
Sheriff’s detective Daniel Morsch interviewed Chica. Chica told him that she had been friends with Nina for some time. But then it developed that Nina had stolen a boyfriend from Chica. According to Morsch, Chica told him that “she wanted to get even with her.” Chica admitted, Morsch later said in court, that she had concocted a plot to get Nina “in a state” using drink or drugs and that she had arranged a meeting with “a guy named Gio.” Morsch said that Chica told him, “It was a setup.”
Chica said that when they got to the apartment, “they were doing a little bit of partying,” drinking vodka and smoking marijuana. She said Gio broke a tablet of Ecstasy and put it into a glass of water and then Chica gave this to Nina to drink, Morsch testified. Chica said Nina became intoxicated. “She said she got totally wasted,” according to Morsch.
In mid-October, investigators obtained a search warrant for David Perez’s apartment. Inside, they found a silver bow-shaped hair clip that Nina said she’d lost in the apartment and an MP3 player with a pink piglet sticker on the back that belonged to Nina. Ecstasy tablets and many baggies of marijuana were seized, and David Perez was arrested.
Detective Morsch located a man named Giovanni Abarca. Nina picked him out of a photo lineup and identified him as one of the men at the apartment.
When the detective spoke with Giovanni, the young man quickly admitted that he had sex with Nina in the apartment that day, and in the same breath he denied any rape accusations. Giovanni described a very friendly Nina. “She told him she was in the mood for sex,” Morsch testified that Giovanni said. Nina even “started talking about threesomes,” Giovanni told the detective. The young man described the two girls as fighting, then making up, then starting to kiss, and then taking their clothes off, according to the detective. Giovanni said he had sex with Nina on the living room floor.
This story was a teenaged boy’s “fantasy,” according to outraged prosecutor Katherine Flaherty, who filed criminal charges against Giovanni Abarca, David Perez, and Chica.
A two-day preliminary hearing took place in early February.
The alleged rape victim, Nina, made a poor witness. She slumped down in her seat as far as she could and hunched downward. Her face could barely be seen, and she tried to never turn her face upward. The prosecutor had to insist she look up to identify the defendants seated in the courtroom.
Testifying in Spanish, Nina said that Chica went into the apartment’s bathroom with each of the two men that afternoon. She believed they had sex in the bathroom. Both of the men, Giovanni Abarca and David Perez, then asked Nina to go into the bathroom with them, she said, but she declined. Nina said that when she refused the men, Chica slapped her in the face. Each time she refused, she got slapped twice, she said.
In the witness box, Nina answered “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember” to many questions. She said she couldn’t remember embarrassing details of what happened that afternoon. She often failed to confirm things that Detective Morsch said Nina had told him the day after the alleged rape.
One of the defense attorneys asked the judge to order Nina to answer his questions truthfully.