A combat veteran convicted of raping a minor promised to appeal and took a jab at his defense attorney during a lengthy sentencing hearing Tuesday.
Marcial Mejia, 36, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping a 14-year-old in 2012 after meeting her online.
Friends and family of the victim and of Mejia sat through more than four hours of testimony. The victim did not take the stand, but her aunt spoke on her behalf.
Prosecutors called a detective who said another girl reported being raped by Mejia, saying it took place in 2014 and that he had first drugged her. The case was never forwarded for prosecution because detectives could not locate the alleged victim after her first report. She was periodically homeless, prosecutors noted.
Mejia denied the allegation.
Detective Michael Robinson also said Mejia contacted other Billings girls, aged 13-15, through Facebook, sometimes using an alias. The detective said the social media contacts sometimes evolved into in-person meetings, and in at least one of those Mejia asked the girl to come to his house, but she declined.
Mejia insisted he did not expect sex from the girls and that he was merely trying to make acquaintances in Billings shortly after moving here.
But he told an investigator prior to sentencing that he always made sure he was aware of the age of sexual consent wherever he lived and never ran afoul of it.
“If you are not seeking sex, there is no reason to monitor the age of consent,” said District Court Judge Rod Souza.
Mejia has not been charged with another sexual offense, aside from a case from when he was a juvenile.
His adult criminal history consists of a domestic violence charge and a harassment charge that were both dropped.
Penelope Strong, Mejia’s defense attorney, noted that the victim’s age was 18 on her Facebook page at the time Mejia met her.
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Morgan Dake, who prosecuted the case, stressed that Mejia had a pattern of seeking out vulnerable girls, including the victim in this case, who had learned to distrust others.
“And so she saw her own rape as a personal mistake,” Dake said, of the victim.
When it was his turn to speak, Mejia said, “OK, now that you’ve heard all these bad things about me, let me present myself in the best light.”
Mejia summarized his biography, noting his college education, his goal of becoming an immigrant rights attorney and his Army service, which included two deployments to Iraq. He listed his military awards and described surviving roadside explosions and enemy fire.
Mejia has maintained his innocence throughout the case, saying he never had sex with the victim. He shouted expletives at jurors after they handed down a guilty verdict in March 2018, calling them “stupid.”
Since then, Mejia has sought and been denied a new trial. Mejia told the judge Tuesday that he plans to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.
He also used his time to criticize his defense attorney.
“I expected the attorney I hired would actually defend me,” he said.
Later, Souza responded, saying Strong “happens to be one of the most respected criminal defense attorneys in the state of Montana, for a long time.”
Strong had sought a 20-year prison sentence, with an unspecified number of years suspended.
The sentence was exactly what prosecutors sought.
Mejia was designated a level 2 sexual offender, which means he presents a moderate risk for re-offending. There are three levels.