Originally Published: April 17, 2003 6:10 p.m.
PRESCOTT – Yavapai County Public Defender Dan DeRienzo said Wednesday that video- and audio-tapes clearly indicate that his 15-year-old client, who the state charged as an adult in connection with an armed robbery in Ash Fork, was the victim of sexual assault.
"He (Seth Aikens) admits sexually assaulting her," he said.
Last week, DeRienzo argued that the authorities should have treated his client as a victim rather than as a defendant in the case because "she has been abducted and raped."
A grand jury indicted the Pennsylvania minor in early March on charges including armed robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and unlawful flight.
The charges stem from a March 2 incident during which the minor and two other co-defendants, Aikens, 25, and Venus Marie Jensen, 19, of Pennsylvania, allegedly robbed an Ash Fork gas station attendant at gunpoint and then tried to escape. Their escape attempt turned into a police chase that concluded with the arrest of all three. Aikens allegedly fired a shot, but no one suffered any injuries.
Aikens and Jensen face multiple charges including armed robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and unlawful flight.
The suspects reportedly told detectives that they left Pennsylvania on Feb. 23, heading for the Phoenix area. When they arrived in Ash Fork, they were out of money and gas. They reportedly told detectives they chose that particular station because they saw only two people in the business.
DeRienzo told the judge he has been able to listen to and view some of the recordings of the defendants' statements that police took after the incident.
He said a Yavapai County Sheriff's Office detective also conducted a telephone interview with Jensen's family. He said that, in that conversation, Jensen's brother indicated that he may have been in the home when Aikens allegedly raped the minor.
He said that in the state of Pennsylvania, which is also investigating the alleged rape and abduction of the minor, statutory rape applies only to those cases in which there is an age difference of at least four years between the victim and the suspect.
In this case, the statutory rape clearly occurred because the age difference is 10 years, DeRienzo said.
He also said that, after they looked at the suspects' vehicle, they noticed significant amounts of food, tents and cooking accessories, which is an indication that Aikens was "going to take them (the other two suspects) to the woods and stay there for a while."
Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Joe Butner told the judge that the state will stipulate to getting rid of perishable items found in the car. Yavapai County Superior Court Judge William Kiger agreed to that, but disagreed to releasing the car and its contents entirely.
Kiger set the next hearing for 1:15 p.m. on May 29.
Meanwhile, during a case management conference for the two other defendants on Monday, Aikens indicated that he would like to change his plea by the end of this week.
Looking at his charges, Kiger told Aikens that he faces a mandatory prison sentence. Since Aiken's lawyer, Robin Puchek, was absent, Kiger told the defendant that it would be wise for him to talk to his attorney before he makes such a decision.
But, "this is the United States and you have a right to do that," he said.
After Aikens consulted with another defense lawyer, he told the judge he would wait.
Butner indicated that they have not made a plea offer to Aikens, but that the state will do that if the defendant wishes to change his plea.
Butner also informed the judge that the state has provided tapes to the defense teams.
"More reports are forthcoming because of the ongoing investigation," he said, adding that the investigation is taking place in several locations across the country.
The judge set the next hearing in the case for 9:30 a.m. on May 27.
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