'Things get better': New Mexico woman overcomes assault by career felon Griego

2014-06-08T00:00:00Z 2014-07-25T21:49:08Z 'Things get better': New Mexico woman overcomes assault by career felon GriegoBy EDDIE GREGG egregg@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Seventeen years later, Kelley Hollingsworth is strikingly open when she talks about being sexually assaulted at age 16 by serial rapist Toby Griego in Santa Fe, N.M.

“It was funny, I was listening to NPR the other day and they were talking about adult interpretations of fairy tales," Hollingsworth, 33, said in recent interview from Santa Fe. "And they were talking about how every fairy tale has to have a tragedy for them to be great and continue on, and it’s like this is my tragedy of my fairy tale."

But part of that tragedy, she believes, is the "slap on the wrist" Griego received for raping her.

Hollingsworth — now married, a partner in a dental practice and a captain in the Army National Guard — is one of at least eight women Griego, 42, was accused of robbing, assaulting or illicitly photographing in New Mexico in 1997 and 1998, and in 2007 when he was on probation and parole after being released from prison. The Gazette typically doesn't identify victims of rape, but Hollingsworth agreed to be named. 

Griego was designated a sex offender in New Mexico in 2002 and registered as a sexual and violent offender in Yellowstone County when he moved to Billings in February 2008.

He also has a criminal history in Billings prior to his jury conviction in April for four home invasions in 2013 that ended with rape of three women and an attempted rape of a fourth woman.

'Shut up, or I’ll kill you'

When Hollingsworth heard about Griego’s attacks in Montana, her heart sank.

“I was really sad because I really felt like he didn’t get much for (raping) me. He got a slap on the wrist in New Mexico,” she said. “And that is so frustrating.”

Griego attacked her the night of Santa Fe High School's homecoming football game. Sometime around 1 in the morning, Hollingsworth left a party to take a friend home. She dropped off her friend, drove back and parked away from the party down a “dark street.”

Looking in the car mirror, she put on some lipstick and then turned to her right, reaching for her purse.

“I heard the door open,” Hollingsworth recalled. “And I thought it was the guys from the party. (Griego) put the knife to the back of my head. He covered my nose and mouth.”

“Shut up,” she remembered her attacker telling her. “I just want your car. Get out of your car. I just want to take your car.”

“Oh, crap,” she thought. “My mom is going to kill me. I’m getting my car stolen.”

Griego pulled her from the car and dragged her across the street to a vacant house with an overgrown yard. He started choking her. She fought back, pulling at his pinkie fingers, trying to loosen his grip.

“He threw me down and he said, ‘Shut up, I just want your car,’” Hollingsworth said. “And then he dragged me further into this vacant house.”

Griego stripped off her spandex pants and used them to tie her hands behind her back and pulled her sweater over her head. He gagged her with her own gloves.

“I started screaming and he said, “Shut up, or I’ll kill you,” Hollingsworth said. “And that’s when he proceeded to sexually assault me.”

Then he left her there, went back to her car and came back and started asking questions: Why did she have an Arizona driver’s license? Why did she only have a dollar? Did she have any more money in her pants? What did “Kelbel” mean?

“Kelbel” was her nickname. And it was on a keychain, a keychain that Griego stole along with her underwear, purse and everything in it. Years later, those items were found in Griego’s car, which helped lead to Griego’s guilty plea in the case.

She answered his questions, and he dragged her back across the street and put her in the trunk of her own car.

“And that’s when he started driving,” Hollingsworth said. 

He stopped several times, including once when he got out and washed her with a bottle of water — one of many similarities between his attack on Hollingsworth and the rapes he committed in Billings, where he forced three women to bathe or shower after sexually assaulting them.

Finally, he stopped driving. He told her to wait in the trunk of her car for 10 minutes, or he would kill her.

When she got out of the trunk of her car, she realized he had left her close to where she had been kidnapped.

“And that’s when I ran,” Hollingsworth said. “I didn’t have any pants on and I had, I think, one boot on.”

She ran to the house where the party had been and started banging on the door. The party was over — she had been gone a couple of hours. But a few people were still in the house. They let her in, gave her some clothes and called police.

She sat down on a bed in a male friend’s room. Her spandex pants, which had been used to tie her wrists, fell to the ground.

When police investigated, they found the spandex. Hollingsworth said they didn’t believe her that she had been raped by a stranger; they thought she made up a story to cover for one of the guys in the house after being raped at the party.

When Griego pleaded guilty to raping Hollingsworth in 2002, he was already in a New Mexico prison after pleading guilty to offenses against four other women in 1997 and 1998.

For those convictions — aggravated burglary, robbery and two counts of automobile burglary — a Santa Fe judge sentenced Griego to 12 years prison.

As part of his plea deal in the rape case, prosecutors agreed to recommend that his sentence run parallel to, rather than in addition to, the sentences he was already serving.

A judge sentenced him to nine years prison, with two years of parole after his release. He was also ordered to begin three years of probation on Aug. 27, 2006, and designated a level-three sexual offender (New Mexico has six tiers of sex offenders).

While Hollingsworth said she has some sense of justice from Griego admitting he raped her, she wishes he had gotten a harsher sentence.

“I wish he had life in prison because I have to deal with this for the rest of my life. Why can’t he?” she said.

And, she said, the concurrent nine-year sentence basically amounted to Griego getting one extra year in prison.

He was released from prison in August 2006 and placed on probation and parole.

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, he was accused in May 2007 of stalking three teenagers and trying to take photographs up their skirts — something similar to what he was charged with doing at Rimrock Mall in Billings in 2010.

Police arrested him, and he was also accused of resisting arrest and tampering with evidence. While in the Santa Fe County Jail, he admitted to having pornography, a violation of his parole, and officials sent him back to prison.

Whether Griego was convicted in 2007 of anything other than violating his parole or punished in any way other than by having his parole revoked is unclear because those records were not immediately available, but he finished all of his New Mexico sentences, including his probation and parole, in February 2008.

Griego moves to Billings

Days after his release from a New Mexico prison, Griego legally moved to Billings, where he has family. As required by law, he registered as a sexual and violent offender in Montana.

Montana has a different sex offender registry system than New Mexico (three tiers compared to six, respectively). Griego was not given a sex offender level here, something that can only be designated by a judge.

He was required to register as a sexual and violent offender with the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s office and provide deputies with his current address.

According to detective Jim Kamminga, Griego was in compliance with the rules of the registry.

Kamminga also said people often misunderstand how the sex offender registry works. It’s just that — a public registry with offenders’ names, mugshots, current addresses and some information about their criminal history; it’s not a system that constantly monitors sex offenders.

Any tougher monitoring of sex offenders is done through state probation and parole. Griego was never on probation or parole in Montana. Aside from being a registered offender, his movements were unrestricted.

According to court records, Griego had several traffic violations in the years and months leading up to the string of rapes he committed last year.

He was also charged in city court with misdemeanor disorderly conduct in July 2010.

At about 1:30 p.m. June 24, 2010, a woman in a changing room at The Gap store at the Rimrock Mall looked down and saw a tattooed hand holding a camera under the door.

The woman left the dressing room and saw only one man in the store. That man, identified as Griego, who has a tattooed arm, left before police arrived.

In November 2010, city prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the charge because they were “unable to locate the victim/witness,” who is named in charging documents.

In what may be his first documented attack on a male, Griego assaulted a man outside a bar in downtown Billings at about 1 a.m. on March 3, 2013.

Griego and an unidentified man were fighting outside Hooligan’s, 109 N. Broadway. A third man tried to break up the fight and ended up getting repeatedly punched in the face by Griego and another man. The victim was also hit over the head with a beer bottle by an unknown attacker.

Police responded and the victim identified Griego and another suspect as his attackers. Griego later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, which has a maximum sentence of six months in jail.

The assault happened between the first and second sexual assaults Griego was later convicted of committing in Billings on Jan. 27 and April 25, 2013.

But according to prosecutors, Billings police didn’t identify Griego as a suspect in the rapes until mid-July, when a Crimestoppers tip alerted investigators to a man, identified by surveillance footage as Griego, who was stalking a woman through Hobby Lobby.

On July 21, 2013, Municipal court Judge Sheila R. Kolar sentenced Griego to six months in jail, all but 28 days suspended for the misdemeanor assault he committed. Seven of those days had to be served in jail, with the remainder to be served under house arrest.

After the Crimestoppers tip, police put Griego under surveillance, covertly observing him stalking women and breaking into multiple cars to steal purses.

They obtained search warrants for Griego's house, car and cell phone. A Billings police detective extracted deleted videos and photos from Griego’s phone. The images showed the sexual assault victims, sometimes as the attacks were happening. In one video, Griego turned his phone’s recorder from one of the victims to his face.

Those images were critical in convicting Griego at his trial in April. After only a few hours of deliberation, a jury forewoman read off guilty verdicts for each of the 27 counts against Griego as he sat stone-faced in a Yellowstone County courtroom.

Based on Montana law, Griego will face a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole because of his prior conviction for raping Hollingsworth.

‘Things get better’

Hollingsworth plans to testify at Griego’s sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for July 25. She wants to tell Griego to his face that he didn’t ruin her life.

But it took her years of counseling and support from loved ones to find her confidence, she said.

“Right after it happened, I slept with my mom for the next, probably, two years,” Hollingsworth said. “Going to bed was a nightmare for me.”

While she still has problems — fear of the dark and being alone in wooded areas — “little by little, things get better,” she said.

In fact, Hollingsworth said that in many ways being raped brought her family closer together.

"My mom at the time hated her job and my grandmother was sick and she just said, 'That’s it; I quit and I’m taking care of my mother and staying home with Kelley and I’m going to be there every second that she needs me.'"

One of Hollingsworth's sisters left an abusive relationship and another sister became a counselor for people — both victims and offenders — affected by sexual violence.

"That is amazing that she took what happened to me and is trying to make it better," Hollingsworth said, adding that the rape also motivated her to be an overachiever.

It fueled her childhood dream of being a dentist: She is a partner in a private practice after graduating from University of New Mexico and Creighton University; it prompted her to join the military: She’s a captain and the state's chief dental officer in the New Mexico Army National Guard; and it made her want to be “the strongest female” she knows.

And she married a friend from high school, Marshall Ryals. Monday is their three-year anniversary, and they’re planning to start a family.

“For me, looking back, this was just something that I had to get through to be who I am now,” she said. “I was able to get through this, and I was able to help people, and I was able to experience this and do some good with my life.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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