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Rape Verdict: Not Guilty

Nelson Romero found not guilty after withdrawing "no contest" plea.

Nelson Antonio Romero, 28, was acquitted of the rape of a 43-year-old Herndon woman following a two-day trial last week.

Romero, also known as Miguel Martinez, initially pleaded "no contest" to the charge earlier this year but withdrew his plea on the day he was scheduled to be sentenced in March.

Romero and three others were charged with rape in the Aug. 30, 2005, incident.

In separate court proceedings, defendant Carlos Murgas, 27, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the rape charge in January and another defendant Rodolfo Jose Lopez, 23, was sentenced to six years in prison in May.

A juvenile, who testified in the trial last week, was also charged in the same incident and could face court proceedings later this year in Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

"Certainly there was inappropriate conduct, some would say immoral conduct by everyone involved," defense attorney Mark Petrovich said in opening statements to the jury in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

But what happened that night was not rape, he said. The Commonwealth would fail to prove its case, Petrovich told the jury.

<b>AFTER DRINKING</b> a fifth of brandy in her apartment on Elden Street, the 43-year-old woman went to buy some cigarettes, she testified.

But when she realized she locked herself out of her apartment, she accepted two men’s invitation to dry off inside their apartment, where a group of men were drinking and listening to music.

"It was pouring buckets of rain, they asked me if I wanted to come in," she said. "I was just glad to get out of the rain."

After drinking a Corona, she went to the bathroom to dry off.

"I came back and they were all looking like a pack of hungry wolves," she testified.

"When I came back, I knew I was in trouble — the way they all stared at me. Miguel Martinez [Romero] spoke English to me. He said his friend wanted to be with me. He said, ‘We all want to be with you, we’re all going to be with you.’"

Herndon police, who were responding to a different call in the apartment complex that night, heard a woman scream from the apartment, testified Officer Jerry D. Priset. Police detained nine people in the house, and eventually arrested four of the men on site, charging them with rape.

<b>BUT DEFENSE ATTORNEYS</b> Todd Petrovich and Laura Byrom argued that the woman agreed to have sex with the group of men if they bought crack cocaine.

Herndon police arrested Romero after he jumped out the third-story window and tried to run away.

Petrovich argued that his client had already been deported once since he is in the country illegally. The defendant testified that he ran away because he feared deportation if he was arrested for playing loud music.

Lopez and Murgas both made statements to police, incriminating Romero, according to search warrants filed in the case.

Lopez, who pleaded "no contest" was sentenced to six years in prison in May.

His attorney Michael J. Lindner watched portions of Martinez’s case and has thought about the case a great deal, he said.

"Can a woman who has consumed a half-gallon of alcohol give consent? Maybe she can once, but when five guys are on top of her?

"It didn’t look good to me," Lindner said. "My client did well."

Following the jury’s "not guilty" verdict Thursday, Judge David T. Stitt told Romero he needed to thank his defense attorneys.

"They just saved you a long time in prison, you understand?" Stitt said. "The matter against you is dismissed."

The jury did not know that Lopez and Murgas were sentenced to prison or that Romero initially pleaded "no contest."

Romero is likely to be deported, Petrovich said, following the case.