January 21, 2016
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(CF1-4009-11) (Hon. Ronna L. Beck, Trial Judge)
Deahl, Public Defender Service, with whom James Klein and
Samia Fam, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for
Cummings, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Vincent
H. Cohen, Jr., United States Attorney at the time the brief
was filed, and Elizabeth Trosman, John P. Mannarino, Sharon
Donovan, and Lindsay Suttenberg, Assistant United States
Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.
Glickman, Associate Judge, and Washington [*] and Reid, Senior Judges.
Washington, Senior Judge
7, 2011, a grand jury indicted Emero Judge Washington was
Chief Judge at the time of argument. His status changed to
Senior Judge on March 20, 2017. Sanchez Tornero
("Appellant") on several counts related to three
separate incidents of kidnapping and sexual assault occurring
in May 2005, January 2006, and November 2008 involving R.G.,
N.R., and C.A., respectively. On January 7, 2013, a jury
convicted appellant on all but one count of second-degree
sexual abuse related to C.A. Appellant challenges the trial
court's denial of his motion to sever the trials and
contends that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the
rape of C.A. Appellant also contends that the government
failed to introduce sufficient evidence to sustain his
convictions for the rape of R.G. and the kidnapping of C.A.
agree with appellant that the trial court erred in denying
his motion to sever the trials. We conclude that the error
was not harmless with respect to appellant's convictions
in the R.G. case and reverse his convictions for the
kidnapping and sexual assaults of R.G. because the evidence
of appellant's guilt was insufficient. With regard to the
C.A. case, we reverse appellant's convictions for the
kidnapping and sexual assault of C.A. because the trial court
lacked jurisdiction over those charges. Finally, although
appellant should have been granted a separate trial on the
charges involving N.R., the denial of his severance motion
did not prejudice him with respect to those charges; we,
therefore, affirm his convictions relating to N.R.
consolidated cases arose out of a series of kidnappings and
sexual assaults allegedly committed by appellant over a
three-and-a-half-year period of time. The victim in each case
was a female passenger who was sexually assaulted in the back
seat of a taxi cab that operated in and around the District
of Columbia. In each instance, the rear doors of the taxi cab
could not be opened from the inside, thus preventing the
women from escaping. The relevant facts particular to each of
the assaults are recounted below.
The Kidnapping and Sexual Assault of R.G.
10, 2005, a 23-year-old Latina woman, R.G., and her
four-year-old daughter flagged down a white taxi with black
lettering at the corner of 9th & N Streets, Northwest, in
Washington, D.C. After they entered the taxi, R.G. gave her
phone to the driver so that her sister could provide
directions to her home in the District. While en route, R.G.
noticed that the driver was going the wrong way. R.G. called
her sister again for her to provide the driver with further
directions. After the driver handed the phone back to her,
R.G. stayed on the line with her sister.
the driver pulled into a large parking lot and drove past a
barrier onto a closed road. The driver tried to grab the
telephone out of R.G.'s hand as R.G. repeatedly yelled
her sister's name. Her sister heard the driver, who she
said had an Ethiopian accent "or something like that,
" yelling at R.G. and her daughter to shut up. Then the
phone went dead.
approximately 12:00 p.m., the cab driver stopped the car and
R.G. tried to open the rear door to get out. However, the
doors would not open when she pulled the handles. The taxi
driver, who was wearing black fingerless gloves, grabbed
R.G.'s daughter around the waist and put her in the front
seat of the cab. He moved into the back seat of the taxi
where he forcibly removed R.G.'s pants, pulled his pants
down, and put on a condom. He then forced R.G. to engage in
oral sex. Later, while the driver was adjusting his condom,
R.G. reached into the front of the taxi, opened the
driver's side-door, and pushed her daughter out of the
car. She then climbed over the front seat and escaped through
the same door. She grabbed her daughter and ran to a nearby
warehouse where a woman called the police for her.
described her attacker as a black male with a
light-complexion, approximately 30 years of age, with thin
and light facial hair, a moustache, and a beard. She later
helped police create a computer-generated composite image of
her attacker. At no time, either inside or outside the
courtroom, did R.G. identify appellant as her attacker.
The Sexual Assault of N.R.
January 7, 2006, a 28-year-old Latina woman, N.R., went to
Langley Park Plaza in Hyattsville, Maryland, to take a taxi
to work. She entered the rear of a silver car marked
"taxi" and gave the driver her work address in
College Park, Maryland. N.R. soon realized that the car was
heading towards D.C. and not College Park. When N.R. told the
driver he was going the wrong way, he simply turned up the
radio. When they stopped at a red light, N.R. tried to open
the rear doors and windows but could not.
assailant drove to an isolated warehouse in the District and
parked the car. He reached into a bag, removed a sheathed
dagger, pulled the dagger out of the sheath, and then pulled
out a medium-sized, dark handgun with "brown
tones." He then put on black fingerless gloves and moved
to the back seat, pointed the gun at N.R., and told her to
remove her boots and jacket, speaking with an "African
or Jamaican" accent. N.R. removed all of her clothing
and the assailant put on a condom.
assailant then tried to force N.R. to have oral sex with him
but she was able to resist his efforts. He forced her to lie
down and he had vaginal intercourse with her. After the
assailant satisfied himself, he removed the condom and placed
it in a brown bag. He then placed his hands and mouth on her
the assailant got back into the driver's seat and while
N.R. was getting dressed, he drove N.R. to College Park,
Maryland where he pulled into a laundromat parking lot. The
assailant got out of the car and opened the rear door so N.R.
could get out. N.R. could not find anyone to help her, so she
walked to work and called her aunt, who then called the
police. N.R.'s supervisor testified that she was crying
and that she said that a taxi driver had raped her.
the police arrived N.R. described her attacker, whom she
identified at trial as appellant, for a composite drawing. At
trial, she described her assailant as "somewhat tall,
thin . . . a beard, not much of one . . . and then on the
side of his face, I don't remember which side, he had,
like, something on his face." The report of the Sexual
Assault Nurse Examiner ("SANE") who examined N.R.
and prepared the rape kit noted that while N.R. had an
abrasion at the bottom of her vaginal canal, no semen was
found in or on N.R.' s body. However, appellant was
identified as the sole source of male DNA recovered from
nipple swabs performed on NR's breasts.
The Sexual Assault of C.A.
November 28, 2008, C.A. and her sister went to The Park
nightclub in D.C. They arrived at The Park between 10:30 p.m.
and midnight and continued drinking with three men they met
at the club. By around 1:00 a.m., C.A. was so visibly drunk
that a security guard asked the two sisters to leave the
Club. C.A. became upset, started arguing with her sister, and
then left the club without her. Her sister tried calling C.A.
on multiple occasions but C.A. never said more than
later that morning, C.A. awoke in the back seat of a taxi cab
that was lined with newspapers. No one else was in the car.
She testified that the door near her feet was open and that
she saw a person standing there, however, shortly thereafter,
she passed out again. She next remembers waking up in the
same taxi as a male voice from the front driver's side of
the taxi called her name. C.A. did not see the man but she
heard him say that he would be back in thirty minutes and she
also heard him say something about the Metro opening. After
he closed the door, C.A. sat up to look for her purse. She
noticed that the meter on the taxicab read $103. She could
not find her purse, but she found ...