The ripples from a Roanoke sexual assault will extend well beyond the two-year prison term imposed this week, witnesses on both sides said.
Nelson Hernandez-Garcia, 23, pleaded guilty in March to carnal knowledge involving a victim aged 13 to 15, acknowledging that last summer he had sexual relations with a young teen.
Guidelines in the case suggested a punishment of probation without incarceration, but that was a recommendation Judge Chris Clemens on Thursday called “so inappropriate it shocks the consciousness of the court.”
Instead, he sentenced Hernandez-Garcia to 10 years in prison, with eight years of that term suspended.
Because Hernandez-Garcia is in the country illegally, it is expected he will be deported back to Honduras as soon as his prison time is served.
The victim’s relatives are refugees from Venezuela, and her father testified in court that his family had never before had to deal with such a situation. He said his daughter remains in the process of coping with it. The Roanoke Times does not identify victims of sexual assault or their family members.
The defendant’s mother, Jessica Garcia, also testified and said that about 15 years ago she left her son and his younger sister in Honduras with her parents to come to the United States.
She said she worked in a Roanoke laundromat for more than a decade, earning $300 a week and sending $500 a month back to her children.
“You lived here on $700 a month for 10 years?” defense attorney Correy Diviney asked.
Jessica Garcia said she sent for her son and daughter in 2014, after their grandparents died, and Hernandez-Garcia and his sister, still in their teens, made their way to Virginia. That journey took them one month and required her entire savings plus a loan, Garcia said.
When he arrived in Roanoke, Hernandez-Garcia was deemed too old to attend high school, so he worked construction and performed regularly as a singer and guitarist at numerous local churches, Diviney said.
He called the incident “extraordinarily out of character” for the defendant and pointed out that his client pleaded guilty to the charge, which spared the victim from having to appear at a trial.
According to the plea agreement, his admission of guilt also prompted prosecutors to drop a charge of indecent liberties.
Testifying Thursday, Hernandez-Garcia asked for forgiveness. He no longer has any immediate family members in Honduras, his lawyer said.
In a summary of his evidence, Roanoke assistant prosecutor David Billingsley revealed that Hernandez-Garcia had chatted with the victim through social media, then met with her when her parents were gone, and had even joked in a message about the potential punishment for what he was doing.
“The defendant essentially preyed upon a child,” Billingsley argued. “He knew the consequences and he took advantage anyway.”
In delivering the sentence, the judge urged Hernandez-Garcia to consider the significance of his actions and his undoing of his mother’s efforts.
“It is so sad two families came to the United States for better lives and you have essentially destroyed both of them,” Clemens told him.