A child rape case filed against a former volunteer coach with the Questa School District entered the first day of a jury trial Wednesday (May 16) in Taos district court.
During an opening statement, Tim Hasson, a prosecutor with the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, implored the jury to listen closely to testimony that would be provided by the teen victim, whom John Rael, 59, allegedly raped on June 9, 2016, when she was 14.
Rael’s defense attorney, Alan Maestas, then laid the groundwork for his defense, describing the victim as a star athlete at Questa High School who had developed a record of getting into trouble with the school system after the alleged incident. He also suggested that she had taken certain actions that may have weakened – or removed – certain pieces of evidence supporting her allegations.
According to details in a criminal complaint, which were repeated when Hasson called the victim to the stand Wednesday, Rael, 59, allegedly raped the teen at The Veterans of Foreign Wars office in Questa.
The victim said she had known Rael for about a year prior to the incident, working odd jobs for him at his home and at the VFW office in Questa.
On June 9, 2016, she said Rael hired her to help him fix a water leak at the VFW office. When they arrived, the victim said they couldn’t find any problems with the water system. As they were preparing to leave, she said Rael forced himself on her and raped her. She asked him to stop at least twice before he complied, she said.
“I was very scared,” the victim said on the stand, recalling the incident. “I didn’t know what to do.”
She said that Rael had always paid her for her work, but as they left the VFW that day, she said Rael offered her more than the usual amount, doing so with the request that she not say anything about what had happened.
During a cross-examination, Maestas asked the victim about her record as a “star athlete” on the Questa track team and her participation as a cheerleader at the school, where Rael had worked as a coach and occasionally as a photographer before he was charged.
According to a criminal complaint, the victim was suspended from school in the months after the alleged rape, when she was caught with marijuana and smoking paraphernalia. She said in the courtroom she had used the drug to forget about her encounter with Rael.
Maestas also noted for the jury the lack of two important pieces of evidence: cell phone data, which the victim had “cleared” before investigators could see text messages exchanged between the victim and Rael, and DNA evidence.
By the victim’s own admission in court on Wednesday, she had burnt clothing she had been wearing when she was allegedly raped because she was afraid Rael’s “saliva” would still be on them. She said she had destroyed the clothes in a wood-burning stove approximately one month after the incident.
“In July?” Maestas asked her.
The victim paused before answering, “Yes.”
Before breaking for lunch, Hasson called the victim’s mother to the stand. She recalled the day her daughter returned home on June 9, 2016. She said she later found the victim in her room, her arms wrapped around her knees, crying profusely.
The victim told both of her parents about the alleged rape, but asked they not report it to authorities.
"I didn't want everyone to know," she recalled in the courtroom on Wednesday.
Months later, the victim's mother did report the incident to authorities.
As of press time on Wednesday, Rael’s trial was set to resume Thursday morning (May 17).