Man gets intensive probation instead of prison for sex assault
EAGLE — A 23-year-old Eagle County man was sentenced to 10 years to life on sex offender intensive supervised probation on Wednesday, instead of prison, for sexually assaulting a juvenile female.
Yolaus Nieto Zuniga, who in February pleaded guilty to one charge of sexual assault, a class 4 felony, will have to register as a sex offender as part of that intensive probation.
Nieto Zuniga was arrested and charged last August for allegedly having sex with the victim against her will, as she told him to stop and tried to stop him. When the crime was first reported, authorities were concerned there may be other victims. None were identified.
Prosecutors argued Nieto Zuniga should get an “indeterminate” sentence of six years to life in state prison for the crime.
“One of the most harsh words I think in the English language is the word rape. I don’t like to use it, it’s degrading. That’s what this individual did to the victim, he degraded her. He had no remorse. He only wanted what he wanted that night,” deputy district attorney Johnny Lombardi told the court.
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The victim, who is 17, told the court the sexual assault by Nieto Zuniga left her feeling helpless and in shock and struggling with anxiety, uneasiness, and not feeling safe. “I have been torn into pieces emotionally, and never felt so isolated and alone,” she said. “One more word to describe how this assault has left me feeling: powerless … I don’t want him to hurt anyone else like he hurt me.”
Public defender Kevin Jensen asked the court for a probationary sentence because of Nieto Zuniga’s age, because he has spent 234 days in county jail since his arrest, because he has taken accountability, and because he has a home and employment awaiting him out of jail.
“This is a very serious charge he plead to, with consequences that will probably follow him the rest of his life,” Jensen told the court. “But it’s not a situation where (Department of Corrections) will be helpful to Mr. Nieto Zuniga or the community. We think we are all much better served if he can get counseling and treatment and abide by the conditions of probation.”
Nieto Zuniga told the court he is willing to do “whatever is necessary” and to receive the help he needs to correct his mistakes.” “I am sorry again, I am sorry for my mistakes, but I have learned a lot. I have never been in jail before,” he said through an interpreter.
Eagle County District Court Judge Paul R. Dunkelman thanked the victim for being strong and making her statements. He also told Nieto Zuniga what happened was not a mistake, describing the crime as egregious.
“You made a conscious decision, and your decision now leads to you sitting here before the court, waiting to hear whether you will remain in the community under a very intensive probation, registered as a sex offender, or potentially spend the rest of your life in prison. You sit here as a 23-year-old awaiting that fate because of the decision you made,” Judge Dunkelman said.
Ultimately, Judge Dunkelman decided Nieto Zuniga can be safely supervised in the community, ordering him to register as a sex offender and imposing 10 years to life on sex offender intensive supervised probation — a probation that requires him to be evaluated and treated as a sex offender and places numerous limits on his freedoms.
Judge Dunkelman also sentenced Nieto Zuniga to another 90 days in the county jail as a condition of that probation. “Part of the additional punishment is you will not be released today,” he said.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at email@example.com.