Whatcom County child molester gets 6-year sentence

A Whatcom County man has pleaded guilty to three counts of child molestation, after his first trial verdict was overturned and the second ended in mistrial.

Raymond Rosarro Abitia, 51, of Wiser Lake Road, knew the girl and started sexually abusing her when she was younger than 14.

Then in April 2011, she was at a birthday party in Mount Vernon when the host went upstairs and opened up a bedroom door to find Abitia breathing hard, sweating and shaking, while the girl sat on the edge of the mattress with one leg out of her pants. According to the victim, Abitia had given her methamphetamine and started to have sex with her, but he told her to get dressed when he heard someone approach. The incident was reported to police.

Eventually the girl told detectives there had been other instances of sexual abuse, for example once in Abitia’s home and another time at an abandoned house in Birch Bay.

The case first went to trial in 2012. A jury found Abitia guilty of child rape in the second degree and delivery of a controlled substance, meth, to a minor. Judge Ira Uhrig sentenced him to a minimum of 11 years and four months in prison, and up to life behind bars.

However, the state Court of Appeals overturned the verdict when it found statements made by an expert witness for the prosecution, Joan Gaasland-Smith, tainted the fairness of Abitia’s trial. Two general statements she made about sex offenders — “Oftentimes people who do this kind of thing don’t tell the truth,” and, “It’s most common to find out that a lot more happened than the child ever told” — struck the higher court’s judges as prejudicial.

The case returned to Whatcom County Superior Court for a second trial in October 2014. Judge Charles Snyder warned the deputy prosecutor, Eric Richey, that the party host could testify about what she saw, such as the girl in a state of undress, but she could not say what she suspected had been going on. That is, rape.

Some of the prosecutor’s questions skirted and, at one point, crossed the line of being admissible, and Deputy Public Defender Leanne Stogsdill made three requests for a mistrial in the first five hours of witness testimony. Snyder allowed the trial to go on until the prosecutor asked the party host about a conversation shortly after she’d walked in on Abitia and the girl.

Richey asked, “Go ahead, what did you say?”

“I said I think Ray was raping her,” the host replied.

That afternoon Snyder declared a mistrial.

“I take full responsibility for that,” Richey said last week.

At both trials the victim took the witness stand.

Abitia pleaded guilty in Judge Uhrig’s courtroom last week to three counts of child molestation in the second degree. A meth delivery charged was dropped in the plea bargain. Uhrig approved the deal, ordering the defendant to spend six years and five months behind bars. He has served about four years already.

Court records show Abitia, who worked as a painter, has a long rap sheet: possession of stolen property, exhibiting a weapon with intent to intimidate, unlawful possession of a firearm, malicious mischief in the third degree, driving under the influence, negligent driving, hit and run, violating a no-contact order, two counts of domestic violence assault in the fourth degree, possessing marijuana while in jail, disorderly conduct, several petty thefts and more than a dozen probation violations in the two years leading up to his incarceration.