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PROVO — Prosecutors have offered a plea deal to a man accused of kidnapping and assaulting his ex-girlfriend in light of the man's marriage to his victim.
A trial against 23-year-old Juan Alberto Leiva — who was facing charges of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and assault, a class B misdemeanor — was set to begin Tuesday. Leiva was charged with attacking and stripping his ex-girlfriend, a BYU student, after learning she had gone out with another man.
But deputy Utah County attorney Craig Johnson said Leiva violated a no-contact order and married his victim Friday in an effort to keep her from testifying against him at trial.
"Is it a coincidence that two business days before the trial they go and get married?" Johnson asked. "It has come to my knowledge that they didn't even spend the night together on Friday, and so to me it is a complete sham of a marriage to try and get him out of responsibility with the court and the state called their bluff."
As Leiva's wife, the woman has marital privilege and couldn't be asked to testify against her husband. Still, that wouldn't prevent prosecutors from using her testimony from a prior hearing. Johnson said that once the couple realized that, Leiva and his attorneys asked for a plea deal. Leiva pleaded guilty Monday to an amended charge of aggravated assault, a second-degree felony.
Is it a coincidence that two business days before the trial they go and get married? It has come to my knowledge that they didn't even spend the night together on Friday, and so to me it is a complete sham of a marriage to try and get him out of responsibility with the court and the state called their bluff.
–Deputy Utah County attorney Craig Johnson
"From my perspective, it sends a message to the community that it is more important to take responsibility than to do something out of the box to avoid charges," Johnson said.
The charges stemmed from an incident June 9, when, two days after the couple broke up, Leiva heard that the woman had gone on a date with another man, a police affidavit states.
"When the defendant found out about this, he confronted her at her apartment, grabbing her by her arm and forcing her into his car, where he drove her to an empty parking lot," according to charging documents.
The man allegedly questioned the woman about her date and asked to see her cellphone and look at her text messages. When she refused to hand over her phone, Leiva ripped off her clothing, including her shirt and underwear, the charges state.
"After he drove to the stop light at 9th East and 9th North, the victim was able to run away down the street before the defendant caught up to her and tackled her on the sidewalk," the charges state. "The totality of this detention and assault terrorized and caused pain to the victim."
A man then confronted Leiva, but was pushed away, which gave the woman a chance to run back to her apartment and get some clothes.
Johnson said the victim did not want to give police a statement the night of the incident and told officers that she didn't want anything to happen to Leiva. While that's not uncommon in domestic violence cases, Johnson said they have to consider the full facts of the case.
"The victim has a lot of input on our cases, but in a case like this where he has confessed to tearing her bra, T-shirt and underwear and tackling her on 9th East, we have to think about possible, future victims," the prosecutor said. "This is a case where we did look out for the future victims of Mr. Leiva."
An attorney for Leiva said his client has no criminal history, a supportive family in the area and a steady job.
Sentencing has been set for June 4.
Contributing: Sam Penrod