By Aishwarya Rajan
SACRAMENTO – In April 2020, a woman was raped, assaulted and robbed in Downtown Sacramento—Bemil Zamora Tangonan was accused of being that perpetrator in testimony heard in Sacramento County Superior Court this week.
The alleged victim said Tangonan, who had been using her services for two years, consistently paid between $80 to $400 for her services as a prostitute.
After hearing from testifying police officers who investigated the case, Judge Stephen Acquisto found sufficient cause for the case to go to trial for the three felony charges of rape, robbery, and assault with a firearm with an enhancement, as described by Deputy District Attorney TeriAnn Grimes.
The contractual relationship, said the victim, went wrong—the defendant exhibited emotional attachments, anger after services, and controlling behavior.
This progressing frustration and obsession from previous sessions, said the prosecution, resulted in defendant Tangonan putting a gun to the victim’s face while she lay naked in a local motel room.
During the morning of April 26, 2020, the two had agreed on the typical payment of $400 for an overnight stay, according to the victim, who said Tangonan went to pick up the victim’s friend. Meanwhile, the victim said she was asleep, naked, on the bed because of methamphetamine use that had kept her awake the night before.
When returning to The Travel Lodge, the defendant had changed his appearance, but as Det. Binh Vu testified, even with a mask, belt, jeans, sunglasses, and a beanie, she immediately knew who was under the disguise. The victim was “terrified, crying hysterically, asking, begging him not to hurt or kill her,” explained Det. Vu.
After his actions, the defendant then requested that the victim say a homeless man committed the crime. He soon returned to the room looking for the shell casings from the bullet that he had fired during the assault.
Assistant Public Defender JoAnn Virata attempted to invalidate the statements of both Det. Vu and Officer Bethanie Dales, two individuals who testified in court, because the officers did not use a Tagalog interpreter for the defendant.
The lack of a Tagalog-speaking interpreter was also used to undermine the observations and testimony outlined by the victim, because the lack of the proper interpreter limits the victim’s truth of events, said the defense.
PD Virata argued against the enhancement because “there was no gun recovered or examined” and therefore insufficient evidence to prove the defendant’s alleged possession of a semi-automatic weapon.
Judge Acquisto declared that, even without the presentation of the gun as evidence, the description of the alleged gun by the victim as well as the shell casing, according to police Officer Dales, is sufficient proof of possession of a semi-automatic firearm.
The judge ruled that defendant Tangonan must stand trial for the two counts. The jury trial for Tangonan was set for March 22.
Aishwarya Rajan is a first year Political Science/ Public Service major and Cognitive Science major at the University of California, Davis. Her various experiences living in her hometown in Danville, California, have shaped her passions to deliver justice through a career in law.
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