Kidnapping charges were added against three police officer suspects — and a second officer was accused of rape — after another indictment was filed in the Blue House case.
Prosecutors presented their case to a grand jury in secret on Friday, and the second superseding indictment was circulated to attorneys in the case during a Superior Court of Guam hearing yesterday.
The indictment adds seven new charges, including some with as many as a dozen counts.
The most significant additions are nine counts of kidnapping filed against police officers David Manila, Anthony Quenga and Mario Laxamana, and charges of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, which are allegations of rape and molestation. A rape conviction carries a possible sentence of life in prison.
Also, during the Superior Court hearing yesterday, attorneys in the case gave dueling arguments over motions to dismiss the charges against the three officers.
Defense attorneys have argued the government had a three-year window to prosecute the officers for their alleged crimes, but Assistant Attorney Nelson Werner said this window remains open as long as the suspects are still officers.
Werner pointed to a section of Guam law that affects government employees. The section states that, if the alleged crime is “based upon misconduct in office,” the statute of limitations doesn’t expire as long as the employee still has the same job.
“They are police officers,” Werner said. “They were arrested at a time when they were still police officers. The events occurred while they were still police officers. They were indicted at a time while they were still police officers. The statute hasn’t passed.”
Judge Anita Sukola has not yet made a decision on any of the motions to dismiss.
As of today, all five suspects in the Blue House case are set to go to trial during the first week in January, Sukola said. The judge said the new indictment adds a “wrinkle” to the already complex case, but jury selection is still scheduled for Jan. 2.
The Blue House lounge was a brothel disguised as a karaoke lounge that operated in Tamuning from 2004 to 2008. Federal prosecutors proved that at least nine women were forced into prostitution at Blue House, but the case has since expanded in local court.
After the Guam Blog published a series of stories on the Blue House case earlier this year, the Guam Police Department re-opened an investigation into allegations that officers were involved in the brothel, culminating in the arrest of the three officers about a week ago.
The case also includes brothel owner Song Ja Cha, who is serving life in federal prison but who also faces charges in local court, and brothel supervisor Freda Eseun, who was a key witness in the federal trial.
All told, the five Blue House suspects face more than 60 counts of 26 separate charges, according to the new indictment.
However, if any motions to dismiss prevail, all of those charges could be dropped.
Motions to dismiss
The motions to dismiss filed in the Blue House case focus on two arguments — that the government took too long to indict the officers for their alleged crimes, and that the officers were brought to court too slowly after their arrest.
On the first motion, defense attorneys yesterday argued the statute of limitations on all of these crimes is only three years, which means the window to prosecute the suspects has passed.
“Because all the offenses occurred, at the latest point, four-and-a-half years ago, in violation of (Guam law), they all violate the statute of limitations, except for the official misconduct charges made against the defendants,” said attorney Leevin Camacho, who represents Quenga. “And (for) that reason, they should all be dismissed.”
The second motion argues that the police officers weren’t brought before a judge within 48 hours of the arrest. Prosecutors have said that the officers were brought before a judge about 11 hours late, but said the delay was because the magistrate judge wasn’t available over the weekend.
That shouldn’t be enough of a reason to delay a court hearing required by law, said defense attorney William Pole, who represents Manila.
Prosecutors had asked for an emergency exception, but a weekend isn’t an emergency, Pole said. If that were the case, authorities could intentionally arrest suspects on Friday so they could have more time to prepare for court on Monday, Pole said.
“Otherwise the government can create its own emergency, then benefit from that emergency,” Pole said.
In response to this argument, Assistant Attorney General Lea Kear argued that defense attorneys had to prove the suspects had been “prejudiced” by the 11-hour delay. There was no such prejudice, Kear said.
Attorneys on both sides of the case cited several conflicting court cases to defend their position on the 48-hour rule, including a court decision from Sukola herself. Perez said judges had a “divergence of opinions” on the issue.
The re-opened Blue House case also has prompted a response from former Police Chief Frank Ishizaki, who wrote in a PDN column on Monday that the “fiasco” had left the police department “demoralized an embarrassed.”
Ishizaki, also a former senator, questioned why the Office of the U.S. Attorney, who tackled the case before the local prosecutors, never indicted the three police officer suspects. The former chief questioned if the federal authorities “missed the obvious,” or if they felt they didn’t have probable cause against the officer suspects.
“If the feds did not believe they had probable cause to charge the officers, what does the AG’s office honestly believe they have?” Ishizaki wrote in the column. “I wonder if there was such embarrassment from lack of action that officers have now become political pawns in order to correct the mishandling of the matter.”
The Office of the U.S. Attorney didn’t respond to questions yesterday about why it didn’t indict any police officer suspects.