A 21-year-old child-rape victim who was set to confront her alleged attacker in a Seattle courtroom Thursday afternoon made her way onto the roof of the King County Courthouse and spent about three hours threatening to jump before she was led to safety.
A 21-year-old child-rape victim who was set to confront her alleged attacker in a Seattle courtroom Thursday afternoon, made her way onto the roof of the King County Courthouse and spent about three hours threatening to jump before she was led to safety.
With hundreds looking on from below, the distraught woman dangled her legs from the courthouse, leaning precariously toward the crowd that shouted for her not to jump. At one point, the woman leapt several feet down to the top of a skybridge that links the courthouse with the King County Jail.
Just before 4:30 p.m., the woman was led to safety by Seattle police negotiators, who had spent hours talking with her. She was taken to Harborview Medical Center for a mental-health evaluation, said Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel.
Traffic around the courthouse was disrupted for several hours as police and fire vehicles crammed into area streets.
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The woman was reportedly distraught about taking the witness stand against Salvador Aleman Cruz, who is accused of raping her when she was a child in the mid-1990s. Cruz, who is acting as his own attorney, would have had the right to question the alleged victim while she was on the stand, said Dennis L. McGuire, an attorney assigned to help Cruz with his defense.
Cruz, 40, is charged with nine felony counts, including first- and third-degree child rape, first-degree child molestation and communication with a minor for immoral purposes. Opening statements in the trial began last week, McGuire said.
On Thursday morning, jurors heard from the woman’s mother, Cruz’s former girlfriend, before breaking for lunch.
Kappel said police were first notified that the woman was on the roof of the courthouse around 1 p.m.
The woman text-messaged Senior Deputy Prosecutor Val Richey, who is assigned to the case, from the roof, McGuire said.
Jurors were asked to stay in the jury room while police tried to persuade the woman to come down from the roof, McGuire said.
The judge hearing the case, Douglass North, did not inform jurors about what had happened. But as jurors left the courthouse at the end of the day, police cars, firetrucks and crime-scene tape blocked several streets around the building.
Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office, said that the case will resume on Monday and at that point, North will decide whether the woman’s actions should result in a mistrial.
Access to the courthouse roof is restricted, but Seattle police said a maintenance crew had left a door open. However, courthouse officials said they’re still trying to determine how the woman was able to get onto the roof.
Cruz is accused of molesting the woman and her older sister between November 1993 and February 1997, according to charging paperwork. The woman was 3 when Cruz entered her mother’s life, charges said.
Richey, in pretrial paperwork, said that the woman and other victims were terrified by Cruz, who allegedly threatened to kill them if they told anyone what had happened. The woman told authorities that she once saw Cruz hold a gun to her mother’s head.
While Cruz was forbidden by court order from contacting his alleged victims, because he was acting as his own lawyer, he had a right to question the five alleged victims in the case, prosecutors said.
This is the second King County rape case in just over a year in which a defendant, acting as his own attorney, has been allowed to question alleged victims before a jury.
In July 2009, Sankarandi Skanda, who also goes by the name Franklin Antill, cross-examined a woman whom he allegedly raped after sneaking into her Wallingford home in October 2008. Antill committed suicide before the case concluded.
A bill that would have protected the victims of sexual abuse from direct questioning in court by their alleged assailant failed to pass in the state Legislature earlier this year. The bill relied on previous rulings in which courts have found that the state has an interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of child-abuse victims in addition to a defendant’s right to face his or her accusers in court.
Seattle Times staff reporter Christine Clarridge and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org