February 3, 2016
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(CF1-6536-13), Hon. John Ramsey Johnson, Trial Judge.
Kalafat for appellant.
Timothy R. Cahill, Assistant United States Attorney, with
whom Vincent H. Cohen, Jr., Acting United States Attorney at
the time the brief was filed, and Elizabeth Trosman, Amy H.
Zubrensky, and Rebekah Holman, Assistant United States
Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.
BEFORE: Glickman and McLeese, Associate Judges; and Reid,
case came to be heard on the transcript of record and the
briefs filed, and was argued by counsel. On consideration
whereof, and as set forth in the opinion filed this date, it
is now hereby
and ADJUDGED that the trial court's judgment relating to
appellant's convictions on the Lopez charges is affirmed;
however, the trial court's judgment with respect to
appellant's convictions on Sanchez count 16, and his
convictions on Mohamud counts 19, 20, and 21, is reversed,
and those counts are remanded to the trial court for new
Smith Reid, Senior Judge
trial on a twenty-six count indictment relating to sexual
abuse and other charges,  a jury found Alexander Hughes guilty of
fourteen of the charged counts. On appeal, he contends that (1)
the trial court abused its discretion by denying his
pre-trial motion to sever the counts involving one
complainant from the counts concerning the other two
complainants, thereby resulting in substantial prejudice to
him; and (2) the government's evidence was insufficient
to convict him of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. For
the reasons stated below, we affirm the trial court's
judgment relating to Mr. Hughes's convictions on the
Lopez charges. However, we reverse the trial court's
judgment with respect to Mr. Hughes's convictions on
misdemeanor sexual abuse counts 16, 19, 20, and destruction
of property count 21, and remand those counts to the trial
court for a new trial.
prove its charges of sexual abuse in the workplace, the
government presented evidence showing that Mr. Hughes worked
as a supervisor for FAME Food Management and was assigned to
the cafeteria at the Nebraska Avenue Complex
("NAC") of the federal Department of Homeland
Security, Federal Protective Service ("FPS"). All
of the complainants worked at the NAC and were supervised by
Mr. Hughes. The government's evidence was designed to
show that over the course of one year, December 1, 2011,
through December 3, 2012, Mr. Hughes committed twenty
criminal acts against Suyapa Sorto de Lopez (kidnapping;
first-, second-, and third- degree sexual abuse; misdemeanor
sexual abuse; and assault); three against Rosa Sanchez
(misdemeanor and attempted misdemeanor sexual abuse, and
assault); and three against Nasro Mohamud (misdemeanor sexual
abuse, and destruction of property).
first of the complainants to testify was Ms.
Mohamud. She described incidents involving Mr.
Hughes and Ms. Lopez and Ms. Sanchez, as well as one
involving herself. On one occasion Mr. Hughes licked one of
his fingers and put it in Ms. Sanchez's ear; Mr.
Hughes's fingernail "punctured the ear" and
"a little bit of blood came out." In 2012, Mr.
Hughes hit both Ms. Sanchez and Ms. Lopez on the buttocks
with a wet, rolled-up towel. Mr. Hughes also hit Ms. Lopez on
the buttocks with a cooking utensil, a spatula. Ms. Lopez
would complain about Mr. Hughes hiding her shoes or her keys
so that she could not leave at the end of her shift. One
morning Mr. Hughes kicked Ms. Lopez in her back while she was
cutting fruit, and later that same morning he hit her on the
buttocks with a clipboard. On another occasion, Mr. Hughes
grabbed Ms. Lopez by the neck as she was passing by him. Ms.
Lopez tried to wiggle free, then turned around, slid Mr.
Hughes's pants down and pushed him; Mr. Hughes pulled his
pants up, and Ms. Lopez fell to her knees. Mr. Hughes said he
the incidents involving Ms. Mohamud and Mr. Hughes occurred
in summer 2012 while Ms. Mohamud was cutting fruit and Mr.
Hughes was cleaning the doughnut station with bleach. Her
back was to Mr. Hughes. He sprayed her with the bleach from
the top of her pants to her legs, including her buttocks. In
doing so, Mr. Hughes damaged her pants to such an extent that
she had to borrow another pair from a co-worker. Mr. Hughes
apologized and offered her money to replace the pants. Ms.
Mohamud could not recall the date on which Mr. Hughes hit her
in the "[s]ame way as he hit [Ms. Sanchez], " that
is on her buttocks with the wet, rolled-up towel. She
"felt a little pain." Ms. Mohamud was afraid of
being fired; nevertheless she told Mr. Hughes not to hit her
government's second witness, Ms. Sanchez, worked for FAME
at the NAC until sometime in 2012, when she left because she
felt "pressured" by Mr. Hughes, and because he did
not treat employees well. Once Mr. Hughes touched his private
part and commented on its size. At other times, he
"would pull down his pants" and show "his
bottom." While she was making sandwiches one day, Mr.
Hughes tried to touch her breast but she folded her arms. She
had previously seen Mr. Hughes try to touch Ms. Lopez's
breast. Mr. Hughes hit Ms. Sanchez on the buttocks with a
rolled-up, wet towel more than twice; he also hit other women
with the towel. He hit Ms. Lopez on the buttocks with a towel
and a spatula "several times" in 2012 as both women
were cutting fruit. One day Mr. Hughes wet his finger and
then used it to scratch the interior of Ms. Sanchez's
ear, causing it to bleed a little bit. Ms. Sanchez and Ms.
Lopez informed Mr. Hughes that they wished to speak with the
owners of the business, but Mr. Hughes said he would never
let them talk to the owners.
Mr. Hughes asked Ms. Lopez for headache medicine or gum, she
would go to the room where the women changed their clothes
and kept their purses. Mr. Hughes would insist that Ms. Lopez
get the items for him, and he would follow her into the
changing room. They would be in the room for approximately
ten minutes. Once when Ms. Lopez returned from the area, she
looked pale, she was fixing her hair, and her eyes were red.
Ms. Lopez said that Mr. Hughes "forced her to do oral
sex." Another time when Ms. Sanchez was going to the
refrigerator, she saw Mr. Hughes in the hallway with his
hands on Ms. Lopez's hands, forcing and pushing her
against the wall. Ms. Lopez, who was angry and pale, was
pushing to get away. When Mr. Hughes saw Ms. Sanchez, he
released Ms. Lopez. Mr. Hughes hid Ms. Lopez's shoes once
"so that she wouldn't leave" at the end of her
Lopez was the third complainant to testify. She worked at the
NAC for four years, two years under Mr. Hughes's
supervision. Mr. Hughes began to touch her buttocks
with his hand, a towel, a spatula, or his private part. He
would grab a wet towel and hit her on her buttocks or her
legs "many times." He would hit her so hard with
the spatula or the towel that she would "run and get
ice, " and the impacted area "would get red and
swollen." Mr. Hughes would "laugh and leave."
Sometimes Ms. Lopez would scream and sometimes she would
laugh after these incidents. She would scream because the
blow hurt and she would laugh because she did not know
"what to do." In 2012, Ms. Lopez saw Mr. Hughes hit
both Ms. Sanchez and Ms. Mohamud with a rolled-up towel. She
never saw him hit the two male employees.
Lopez described instances of sexual abuse by Mr. Hughes.
Sometime in 2012, around 10:40 a.m., while other employees
were on break but she was still working, she was walking to
the refrigerator when Mr. Hughes grabbed her by her hair and
pushed her toward the room the women used to change their
clothes. After forcing her into the room he tried to pull her
pants down, and she tried to pull them back up. He pulled her
pants down again, hit her with his hand, asked if she wanted
to lose her job, forced his private part into her anus, and
ejaculated in her anus. Her hair "had come all undone,
" and she was crying, but managed to "put [herself]
together and [to go] back to work." About one or two
weeks later, Mr. Hughes again accosted Ms. Lopez. She had
gone to the back of the cafeteria to get a container. He
again grabbed her hair and pushed her into the changing room
and penetrated her.
other occasions, Mr. Hughes forced Ms. Lopez to perform oral
sex - in the changing room, a closet where dry food was kept,
the men's room, and her car. One morning she was on her
way to the changing room to get her migraine medication, and
as she was bending down in the room to get her purse from on
top of a box, Mr. Hughes grabbed her by her hair,
"h[e]ld [her] hard, " put his private part in her
mouth, and ejaculated into her mouth. She spit into a glove
she was wearing and threw it into the trash. Mr. Hughes tied
up the trash bag and put it in a hole in the changing room.
Oral sex took place on more than one occasion, after which
Ms. Lopez would spit the result out into the trash and Mr.
Hughes would put the trash in the changing room hole or put
it outside in the trash. Earlier, Ms. Lopez testified before
the grand jury that Mr. Hughes would threaten to fire her if
she did not do what he wanted. Sometimes he would hide her
purse and keys so she could not leave. As she put it,
"many times he hid my personal things so that at the
last minute he could do what he wanted to do." Oral sex
happened in the dry goods area "more than once." As
for the bathroom, early one morning around 5:45 or 6:00 a.m.,
Ms. Lopez was cutting up fruit when Mr. Hughes told her to
"meet [him] in the bathroom." When she did not meet
him there, he returned and told her he was waiting for her.
When she declined to follow him, he said, "do you want
me to kick you out? Do you want to lose your job?" She
went to the bathroom and Mr. Hughes put his private part in
her mouth. She told Ms. Sanchez about the oral sex but was
too embarrassed to mention the anal penetration. She did not
tell her husband because "he's a very angry and
abusive man." He would have made her leave her job, but
she needed to work because "[h]e did not have a stable
job." She also "was afraid he would kill
Agent Marco Monteiro, a criminal investigator with the FPS,
was assigned to the team investigating Ms. Lopez's
complaint against Mr. Hughes. When he went to the coat room
(the changing room) at the NAC cafeteria and looked into the
crawl space in the ceiling, he discovered and collected as
evidence plastic bags containing different items. He placed
these plastic bags in other bags, sealed them and took them
to the laboratory at the Metropolitan Police Department
("MPD"). Officer Nathaniel Covington, a crime scene
investigator for the MPD, went through the bags and pulled
out latex gloves; he and his team examined the gloves using
the alternate light source technique to determine which
gloves contained body fluids. They packaged and sealed these
gloves. Jessica Skillman, a forensic scientist at the
Department of Forensic Sciences and an expert in serology,
examined the gloves for the presence of semen. Three of the
gloves tested positive for semen. She took samples of the
three gloves for DNA testing. Ms. Skillman also received
reference samples in the form of buccal swabs from Ms. Lopez
and Mr. Hughes. She prepared a cutting of these samples for
DNA testing. A forensic serologist and DNA analyst at the
Department of Forensic Sciences, Christiana Shoopman,
developed a DNA profile from cuttings made by Ms. Skillman.
Further testing revealed that the semen from the three gloves
tested by Ms. Skillman matched the DNA profile obtained from
the swab that came from Mr. Hughes.
morning of December 3, 2012, Ms. Lopez was cutting up
vegetables in the back of the cafeteria when Mr. Hughes
arrived at work. He was making body movements and his private
part was "erect." He said he was "horny."
He went into his office, came out later with a clipboard and
hit Ms. Lopez's buttocks. She screamed and said she would
"kick his butt" if he did it again. He laughed,
returned to his office, but emerged within five minutes, hit
her either with his hand or the clipboard, and laughed. Ms.
Lopez was angry, entered Mr. Hughes's office, and
"grabbed his shirt." In turn, he grabbed her,
pulled her toward the closet, held her with one arm and
touched her breasts with the other arm. She tried to free
herself and hit him. Eventually she broke loose, but he
kicked her on the buttocks, and she "fell down on one
knee, " her right knee. She felt pain and began to cry.
He laughed and twice said she was "going to die."
He did not apologize or help her up. She sought assistance
from Ms. Mohamud who brought her ice for the knee. At the end
of the day, Ms. Lopez went to the infirmary at the NAC; she
was treated later at the hospital, and by an orthopedic
surgeon. She missed time from work due to more than one
surgery on her knee and physical therapy.
end of the presentation of the government's evidence,
defense counsel moved to dismiss certain counts relating to
Ms. Lopez on the ground of insufficient evidence. The
government acknowledged evidentiary problems with respect to
certain counts identified by defense counsel, and hence, the
government moved to dismiss certain counts involving
kidnapping, first-degree sexual abuse and an attempted lewd,
indecent or obscene act by Mr. Hughes.
Hughes presented several witnesses who testified that Ms.
Lopez did not report oral sex or penetration by Mr. Hughes,
and stated that she injured herself when she twisted her
ankle. Others indicated that Mr. Hughes and Ms. Lopez
"hors[ed] around" or teased each other by hitting
each other's buttocks. Other witnesses talked about staff
positions and administrative issues facing FAME, Mr.
Hughes's schedule of work, or experiences with him at
work that were inconsistent with Ms. Lopez's description
of him. The jury found Mr. Hughes not guilty of
counts 8, 12, 24-26 (involving Ms. Lopez), and counts 17 and
18 (relating to Ms. Sanchez). However, the jury convicted Mr.