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Jordan rape victim's past sex assault allegations may come up at trial

  • 9 min to read
SCALE facility

The rape allegedly took place near this SCALE facility near Jordan.

The alleged victim in a rape near Jordan last year has made sexual assault allegations against four other people — two of them statutory rape cases in Iowa where the defendants pleaded guilty and the two other “stranger rapes” that were not prosecuted, according to police reports and court hearings and documents.

Law enforcement officials went to Iowa and Rochester to look into the cases, which the defense attorney in the case says shows they had questions about the veracity of the victim’s story, until DNA evidence came back with a match. Then he claims investigators lost interest in the other allegations, but the prosecutor handling the case says the investigation had ended by then.

The defense attorney asked a judge to allow him to review evidence in the other cases so he can decide whether to try to introduce it at trial.

Austin J. Jones, 27, is charged with raping a 20-year-old Valleyfair worker on Aug. 7 in a swampy, wooded area near Jordan. He was indicted by a grand jury in May on additional charges and now faces life without parole if convicted. A grand jury indicted Jones for first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a dangerous weapon.

According to the charging documents, the rape occurred near the SCALE facility near Jordan, where the woman lived along with other Valleyfair workers. Beatriz “Betty” Perez, who spoke publicly after the rape charges were filed and again recently with the Independent, said she was on the phone with a friend, Cory Lau, when she saw a man leaned against a tree outside the SCALE building. She said she approached him to see if he needed help and was attacked.

Prosecutors allege Perez’s neck was bound by a belt and she was dragged into a swampy area behind the SCALE building and raped. Scott County Sheriff’s Investigator Adam Volek testified that Lau told him that he had his roommate alert police that Perez might be in danger after she dropped her phone and screamed “Ouch!”

Officers found her cell phone in the parking lot near her vehicle, still connected to the call with Lau. They heard cries for help and coughing coming from a swampy area near the building, and found Perez lying on a blanket on the ground with a belt around her neck, nearly naked and covered in grass, dirt and weeds. She was gagging, coughing and “unresponsive, shivering, and appeared to be in shock.”

About five hours later, Jones, a homeless sex offender, was found slumped over in his parked pickup by Mdewakaton Public Safety personnel about one mile north of the SCALE facility.

Initial DNA test results didn’t turn up any matches, and Jones had to be released from jail, by law. But after he was released, the belt found around Perez’s neck and Jones’ underwear were tested and Jones’ DNA was found on the belt and Perez’s DNA was found on Jones’s underwear, according to court records.

Jones’ attorney disclosed in court documents from November that he may rely on the defense of an alibi, saying he’s provided prosecutors with a surveillance video from a Holiday Station Store in Plymouth that shows Jones in the store at about 1:26 a.m. The store is about 35 minutes from the scene of the crime, which occurred at about 1 a.m.

‘This is the third allegation of

forced rape’

Court documents indicate Jones’ attorney may introduce evidence at the trial of other sex assault allegations the victim has made.

The prosecutors and defense attorney involved in the case declined to comment on it, but during a January court hearing, it became clear both Jones and Perez’s past may come up if the case goes to trial.

Jones’ defense attorney, Robert Sicoli, argued for the right to get records related to past sex assault allegations Perez has made. He said Perez was the victim in two statutory rape cases in Iowa where two people pleaded guilty, although he said, “when they (detectives) actually talked to Ms. Perez, she tried to turn it into forcible rape.”

Austin Jeffrey Jones

Austin Jeffrey Jones

Sicoli said he’s not planning to try to get the statutory rape cases introduced as evidence, but is considering doing so with two additional allegations Perez made that she was sexually assaulted — one when she was 12 years old in Lake Mills, Iowa, and another while she attended Rochester Community and Technical College.

In the Lake Mills case, Perez “came running out of the auditorium at school and reported that she was raped and she had ripped clothes on and said she was raped by a stranger,” Sicoli said. But surveillance videos did not turn up an assault, he said. When they searched Perez, they found “something that you would cut off tape with” on her, which he said could have been used to cut her own clothes.

In the Rochester incident, Perez was returning from a party on campus in October 2017 when she said she was attacked from behind by one or two people who tried to rape her, one of whom was speaking a foreign language, Sicoli said. He said she went to the hospital but when police wanted to take her clothes, she refused to allow them, and when they tried to follow up on the case, she refused to talk to the officers.

Sicoli said campus video surveillance showed her walking, and when a car pulled into a parking lot towards her, she ran away, and the car parked “and that’s it.” A security guard who was on a nearby drug stakeout told police he saw a woman jog by who “didn’t appear to be in any distress,” Sicoli said. And then he saw a couple of groups of black and white men come through about 15 seconds later.

“But it is a little bit strange that there’s three — that this is the third allegation of forced rape, stranger rape,” Sicoli said. “And it’s I think somewhat remarkable that the police officers thought it was important enough to actually investigate as well. And then they dropped the investigation after the DNA evidence came back because then they decided, ‘We’ve got the guy’ — I assume presumably — that we don’t need to do any more investigation.”

Rochester police records obtained by the Independent confirm Perez made the report that someone attempted to sexually assault her but she was able to get away and run back to her apartment. The Rochester police investigation into the matter remains open, but Perez said she decided not to cooperate.

“I didn’t want to be involved,” Perez said in a recent interview with the Jordan Independent. “I had two more years of college and I didn’t want to deal with it. When I talked with someone about it, they kind of …. it felt like it wasn’t a priority, it felt like it didn’t matter. So I just left it.”

Assistant Scott County Attorney Suzanne Brown said during the January hearing Perez’s decision not to go forward in the Rochester case is not relevant to this case and prejudicial.

“I think in the end it’s going to be rape-shielded out,” she said.

She said Perez’s credibility shouldn’t be attacked due to her prior history as a victim.

“And the fact that officers did a thorough investigation certainly shouldn’t be held against them. And the allegation that it was dropped once the DNA came is fanciful because the investigation was already complete.”

Brown said in the Iowa statutory rape cases, two people went to prison for “inappropriate sexual conduct with her.”

“In fact, they actually interviewed people that were convicted of raping her, and the one individual said, ‘Yes I did it and I shouldn’t have done it,’ “ she said.

Sicoli asked Scott County District Judge Rex D. Stacy to allow him to review evidence in the Iowa and Rochester cases. He argued because the Scott County Sheriff’s Office investigated the other allegations, he has a right to view the same material and determine whether any of the information would be pertinent to Jones’ defense.

“Maybe now since there’s DNA evidence they [the police officers] would get up on the witness stand and say, ‘we weren’t suspicious.’ But not only did they go to Rochester to talk to people, they went to Lake Mills, Iowa, to talk to people. They were obviously suspicious,” Sicoli said. “I should be allowed to look at the records to see if they’re important, to see what this surveillance video shows.”

Sicoli implied some of Perez’s past allegations may have been false.

“Regardless of what these police officers would say now, why would they go to Rochester and interview these police officers and interview the security personnel unless they were thinking it’s maybe not true?” he said.

Brown pointed out that when prosecutors decline to press charges because they don’t have probable cause, “that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” it just means they can’t prove it happened.

In March, Stacy ruled Sicoli can review school and human services records pertaining to the Iowa incident and the police files in the Rochester incident, opening the door for the defense to make a motion to call into question Perez’s history and the veracity of her prior allegations.

State law says defense attorneys may only bring up the past sexual experiences and conduct of a victim if a judge orders that the “evidence of the victim’s previous sexual conduct establishes a common scheme... under circumstances similar to the case at issue, relevant and material to the issue of consent.”

Sicoli also said Perez’s “estranged mother” told detectives Perez went to school with Lau and the two “used to play role-playing games where they’d get online and they’d assume identities. And then they talked to her sister, who said that she lies all the time and that she even lies about allegations of sexual abuse.”

Brown said in response, “I think their allegation is simply she had a tumultuous relationship with her parents.”

Sicoli said Perez did have a tumultuous childhood, was “taken out of the home, stayed with a friend and eventually was on her own.”

Perez: ‘DNA doesn’t lie’

In an interview, Perez said it’s been several weeks since she’s received an update on the case’s progress from the victim/witness advocate. 

Perez said prosecutors told her the defense was looking into her past, but she initially didn’t understand what they were looking at. The 21-year old Iowa native said she remembers little of her childhood prior to graduating from high school.

Perez

Beatriz “Betty” Perez

She says she’s had seizures since late high school and was diagnosed with epilepsy last year. She said the condition has left her with incomplete memories of her life before high school.

Perez said she relies on Lau — whom she said was a friend the night of the attack and is now her “partner” — to help fill in the gaps in her childhood memories. Lau and Perez have been friends since they were children in Lake Mills, and both moved to Minnesota after high school for college and work. They’ve been constants in each other’s lives, staying in touch even while dating other people.

“I know from what my partner told me, he said that my life wasn’t the best,” Perez said. “He said himself that he doesn’t want me to remember that stuff. So I trust him. And if he says that they’re bad then I don’t want to remember them.”

Perez says the Jordan incident has changed her once trusting, open personality to one clouded with fear and suspicion. She’s given herself a new set of rules to live by: don’t stay out too late, avoid being outside alone and don’t trust strangers.

She wants the memories to disappear.

“Part of me is wishing for me to have a seizure and forget everything,” Perez said. “A seizure is probably one of the worst feelings ever and I would rather feel that pain then all of this. I just don’t want to deal with it.”

Perez said she intends to cooperate with prosecutors and face Jones, even though her past may come up.

“I don’t think they should be allowed in court because it was a past thing and it has nothing to do with Austin. But if they do let them in, it’s not going to change the fact that there’s DNA and that there’s trauma. I mean DNA doesn’t lie, right?”

Grand jury

Prior to the grand jury indictment, Jones was charged with first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct with force or coercion. The first-degree felony originally carried a 12-year mandatory minimum sentence and the second-degree felony carried a maximum 7.5-year minimum sentence and $35,000 fine.

The enhanced charges came after the grand jury found probable cause that all four offenses occurred after the victim was moved from one place to another and while they were exposed to “extreme or inhumane conditions.”

The second indictment uses the severity of the alleged assault, along with Jones’ prior history of criminal sexual conduct, to place Jones in the category of “dangerous sex offenders” if he’s convicted. Under Minnesota law, dangerous sex offenders — repeat offenders or particularly violent offenders — may receive longer sentences than those convicted without the “dangerous” designation.

In 2012, Jones was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct for the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl in December 2010 at a party when Jones was 18. He spent 90 days in the Carver County jail, mostly on work release, and was ordered to serve probation until 2027, according to court documents.

The charge would have been removed from Jones’ record had he followed his probation and remained law abiding. But over the next three years, he repeatedly violated his probation, according to court records. He was convicted of marijuana possession, felony burglary and underage drinking. Twice he was ordered to serve 90 days in the Carver County Jail for probation violations, once in 2014 and once in 2016.

In March, the Scott County Attorney’s Office filed two fifth-degree assault charges against Jones for allegedly beating another inmate while in the county jail after an argument erupted while they were playing dice. Those charges were elevated because the incident occurred within three years of his previous convictions.

A trial date has not been set in the rape case.

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