Sex assault on teenaged sister-in-law lands man in prison for 12 years to life |

Sex assault on teenaged sister-in-law lands man in prison for 12 years to life

Jacinto Zelaya-Zelaya, center, is escorted to jail afternoon after a jury found him guilty of sexually assaulting his teenaged sister-in-law. He was sentenced to state prison for 12 years to life. He is being escorted by Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek, left, and Det. Karen Waddell.
Randy Wyrick| |

EAGLE — An El Jebel man will spend at least 12 years in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting his sister-in-law, 17 years his junior.

Jacinto Zelaya-Zelaya insisted he did not do it, but a jury disagreed, convicting him after three days of deliberation and one mistrial.

Zelaya-Zelaya was sentenced to state prison for 12 years to life Wednesday, Dec. 6, in district court. He will be under some sort of state control for the rest of his life, said Prosecutor Bryan Garrett.

The case will be appealed, said Thea Reiff, chief public defender who handled Zelaya-Zelaya’s defense.

The case rolled through accusations that Eagle County Sheriff’s investigators lied to Zelaya-Zelaya during their investigation and instructed his teenaged accuser to lie to him, as well. The accuser twice told prosecutors that she wanted to drop this case and that she did not want to go forward in court. She later claimed that her sister, Zelaya-Zelaya’s wife, pressured her into trying to recant. A mistrial last spring moved the trial to October.

Zelaya-Zelaya’s accuser said he started raping her when she was 13 years old and continued for two years. She said she told no one because he threatened to harm her and her family.

The accuser said she did not speak with anyone about it until 2015, when she told her girlfriend, a student at a different high school.

That girl told her school counselor, who contacted the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators started working the case immediately. The first forensic interview lasted 74 minutes.

Eleven months later, when the accuser was being prepared for last spring’s original trial date, her timeline changed and so did some of the accuser’s story, Reiff said.

The accuser lived with her sister, Zeyala-Zelaya and other family members. She initially said nothing happened in their house, that it was only in isolated areas near Basalt and Reudi Reservoir and in the back seat of his pickup truck. Reiff said no forensic evidence was found on the truck’s cloth seats.

Later, the accuser said that on Friday nights, when her mother was in Rifle with her boyfriend, she stayed in her mother’s bedroom. She said Zelaya-Zelaya came in either through a window or through a locked door. He must have had a key, she testified.

She told investigators that she forgot about that during their previous interview.

“The sound of the key in the lock is a sound that stays,” Reiff said. “If you are raped almost every Friday night, in your mother’s bed, that’s something you would remember.”

Zelaya-Zelaya’s accuser said he gave her money, bought her a cellphone and drove the accuser and her girlfriend around. Neither of them were old enough to drive.

On Sept. 5, 2016, the accuser sent another message to the prosecutors’ office saying she no longer wanted to charge Zelaya-Zelaya. They told her it was beyond that and that they would move ahead with the case, Reiff said.

After the jury convicted him, Zelaya-Zelaya was taken straight to jail.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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