By Cynthia Koons
“Before this event I led a normal life with my family,” the victim said in a letter to the court that was read to Judge Randall Eng by Assistant Queens District Attorney Donna Golia.
“After this incident my life can never be the same. I am afraid to go out. I have nightmares. I am not able to sleep. I feel depressed and sad most of the time, and I cannot even perform simple activities a lot of the times.”
The first attacker, Victor Cruz, 23, was sentenced to 21 years in prison under a plea arrangement in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens.
An illegal immigrant from Mexico, he apologized for the attack in a brief statement to the court, according to published reports.
“I hope she will one day be able to overcome this nightmare,” he said.
Three other homeless men, who also pleaded guilty, were scheduled for sentencings on Thursday. The final sentencing was adjourned until next month. Four of the five men entered the country illegally from Latin America.
“The defendant has been justly sentenced to a lengthy prison term for taking part in one of the most shocking and brutal crimes in Queens County history,” District Attorney Richard Brown said, referring to Cruz.
“Today's sentence enables the victim to continue the process of healing, secure in the knowledge that the first of her attackers has been severely punished for his part in the vicious crimes.”
The 42-year-old woman and her 38-year-old boyfriend were walking on Dec. 19, 2002 through a deserted area between the Shea Stadium station of the Long Island Rail Road and the No. 7 train subway stop at around 9 p.m. the night they were surrounded by the five homeless men.
“My nightmare started when a group of about nine men – and I use the term 'men' loosely because they acted like a pack of wild wolves in search of their prey – surrounded us and grabbed me and punched and kicked my boyfriend while they robbed us,” the woman, who is also a mother, said in her letter. “There in the middle of the overpath, close to the Long Island Rail Road, they ripped my pants off and savagely raped me.”
She said that more than five men were involved in the attack but that no other suspects had been identified.
“I have been trying to heal and move on with my life in some way with the help of my family, friends and professional help,” she said. “I still hear their voices in my head and see faces; sometimes it feels like it just happened yesterday.”
Luis Carmona, 21; Armando Juvenal, 21; Carlos Rodriguez, 23; Jose Hernandez, 29; and Cruz pleaded guilty to charges of rape last month after admitting they had collaborated in the vicious attack on the couple.
Hernandez, Rodriguez and Cruz are from Mexico; Juvenal is from Ecuador. The four men entered the country illegally. Hernandez, Rodriguez and Juvenal had criminal records prior to the attack for offenses ranging from marijuana possession to robbery, authorities said.
Carmona, whose nationality was not revealed by authorities, entered the country legally.
U.S. Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) held a hearing in the House of Representatives after the attack and addressed questions about why immigrants are allowed to stay in the country after being convicted of crimes.
The district attorney accepted their guilty pleas in order to spare the woman from having to testify at a trial.
The victim said she is grateful to not have to testify and face her attackers in court.
“It would be like being traumatized again,” she said. “I would like for them to spend their entire life in prison. I feel that the way they brutally raped me, one after the other, dragging, punching and hitting me, they took my life, my soul.”
Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.