BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — She was just 9 when the sexual abuse started, at the hands of a trusted relative with whom her family was staying after immigrating, illegally, from El Salvador.
When her brother discovered what was happening, he begged her to tell a grown-up.
But when she finally confided in her mother, other family members turned on them, berating her and warning her not to say anything more about Wilfredo Alas.
Her mother tried to protect her, keeping her away from Alas as much as possible in the apartment house on Ward Street in Salem, where they were living. But instead of “thanking his lucky stars for whatever deal with the devil he had made,” prosecutor Karen Hopwood said, Alas instead chose to “lay in wait” for the girl.
One day, Alas persuaded the girl’s mother to let her accompany him to Walgreens, to translate for him at the pharmacy. He told the girl’s mother that his own girlfriend would be there.
Instead, he took her to an empty apartment that was being renovated for her family so that they would have their own place to live. He raped her in the dining room.
Yesterday, Alas, 33, was sentenced to 11 to 13 years in state prison by a Newburyport Superior Court judge who called the case both “heartbreaking” and “atrocious.”
Judge Richard Welch III noted that while “some cases are more heart-wrenching than others,” this case is particularly disturbing because not only was the girl subjected to sexual abuse by Alas, but by another family member, as well, Jesus Najarro, 39, Alas’ brother, who is now serving an eight-to-10-year prison term for child rape.
Najarro was convicted following a trial in February. Alas was found guilty by a jury on Wednesday.
Alas’ sentence will be followed by 10 years of probation, unless he is deported, something his attorney, Ray Buso, said is likely.
Hopwood, the prosecutor, who had sought a sentence of 20 years to life on the child-rape charge, urged the judge not to consider the likely deportation as a factor in sentencing, saying Alas deserves to be punished just like any other offender.
And she expressed concern that should Alas illegally re-enter the country, he remain under the conditions of his probation, leaving him exposed to more prison time.
It took five years for the abuse by both men to come to light, in 2009, as the girl was reaching high school age.
She has since graduated and is now planning for college.
“My life is nothing like it used to be,” said the victim, who still has difficulty trusting others. But, she told the judge, she hopes the sentencing “brings an end to this chapter of my life.”
Welch told the girl that she “displayed a great deal of courage” in testifying at the trial and speaking at sentencing, and a level of resilience he said he hopes will carry her far in life.
Hopwood said the girl’s brother, who sat with her in the courtroom yesterday, still struggles with feelings of being responsible for persuading her to tell an adult, only to find that no one could protect her.
“This is a case without a single mitigating circumstance,” Hopwood said. Instead, there were only aggravating factors, factors that called for a harsh sentence, the prosecutor said, pointing to the girl’s age and her particular vulnerability.
She had only recently arrived in the United States, after years of being separated from her parents, who had to save enough money to send for her.
Alas was one of the people her parents trusted to help them find their way in the new country, “a position of trust that he violated in such a heinous way,” the prosecutor said.
Even after being confronted, Hopwood argued, Alas continued to take advantage of the girl.
After the rape, the girl and her family moved to the very apartment where Alas had raped her, in the spot where the family would eat dinner each night.
Buso, the defense lawyer, urged a more lenient sentence of no more than six years, describing how Alas will be “exiled” from his wife and their two children, ages 1 and 5, as a result of his sentence and deportation.
Buso told the judge that the parents of Alas were “assassinated” in El Salvador (a claim refuted by Hopwood, who said Alas’ mother died when she was hit by a car and that Alas was believed to be sending money home to his father while living in Salem).
He grew up in a home with a dirt floor and spent six months trying to come to the United States.
“Poverty, ignorance, abuse,” Buso said. “They don’t come with the same kind of background we have. These are very simple people, uneducated people.”
A long sentence “serves no good purpose,” he argued. The victim, he said, “has moved on and is bettering herself.”
Welch was not persuaded, however. While noting that the testimony about Alas and Najarro’s journey to the United States was “eye-opening,” no matter how hard they had worked, “you have to obey the laws of the United States, and frankly, behave like decent human beings. Rape of a child is as appalling in El Salvador as it is in the United States.”
The judge went on to call Alas’ behavior “atrocious, atrocious conduct.”
Alas will have to serve at least 11 years before he is eligible for parole on the charges of child rape and attempted child rape. He also received a concurrent term of nine to 10 years for indecent assault and battery on a child and a 10-year probation term for a second indecent assault and battery count.
The conditions of his probation include an order that he have no contact with the victim and her immediate family, that he register as a sex offender, take part in sex offender treatment, and, when released, wear a GPS-equipped bracelet that would alert authorities if he goes near the victim.
Buso filed a notice that Alas intends to appeal his conviction.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.