Crime

Bellingham repeat sex offender gets max sentence for raping teen

Four years after a Bellingham man was relieved of his probation in a sex abuse case, he must serve 15 years in prison for sexually abusing another girl.

Robin Edward Zell, 42, of Bennett Drive, pleaded guilty to two felony sex offenses for raping a teen girl in late spring 2015. That day he offered her three or four bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and another drink from a shot glass. Then he raped her in a bedroom, according to charging papers.

She mentioned something to Zell the next day about her vague memories of what happened. He looked “freaked out” and told her not to tell anyone, according to the charges.

She came forward to sheriff’s deputies months later. She recalled not being able to control her body, but could remember only pieces of the sexual assault.

Deputies spoke with Zell on Jan. 9. He admitted to the crime. They asked if it had been a brutal attack. He said, “No.” He was booked into jail that evening.

Zell entered a formal guilty plea in March.

“Mr. Zell wanted this taken care of as soon as possible” to avoid further traumatizing the victim, said his public defender, Darrin Hall. “I think it’s rare for a sex case of this magnitude, with a life sentence hanging over his head, to resolve as quickly as it did.”

I can never say sorry enough for the damage I’ve caused.

Robin Edward

Zell, a construction worker, faced a stern sentence due to his history as a sex offender. About 16 years ago, he molested a girl who was younger than 10. Years after the fact, the girl reported that Zell made her rub him sexually in a shower. Zell pleaded guilty to child molestation in the first degree in 2006.

In that case, he served a 51-month sentence and completed treatment for sexual deviancy. The treatment suggested that since his youth, Zell has felt an “incessant need to prove to himself his heterosexuality, which led to sexual preoccupation,” according to an investigation by the Department of Corrections.

Over the years that followed the first conviction, however, Zell wasn’t charged with any crimes. Court records show he was taken off Department of Corrections supervision in 2012.

It’s really nothing short of appalling to me that you could be in front of this court again on virtually the same behavior, 10 years later.

Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis

At a sentencing hearing Thursday, April 21, he unfolded a written letter and addressed Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis.

“I can never say sorry enough for the damage I’ve caused,” he said through tears. “It doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.”

The girl did not speak at the hearing.

Montoya-Lewis handed down the top sentence she could under state law — well above the standard prison time for those felonies, as suggested by the plea deal reached by Hall and Deputy Prosecutor Jonathan Richardson.

“It’s really nothing short of appalling to me that you could be in front of this court again on virtually the same behavior, 10 years later,” the judge said. “Your apology doesn’t change the fact of your behavior, and the consequences that, as you know yourself, are lifelong for your victims.”

She added: “And the victims are plural.”

Correction on Monday, April 25. Zell was taken relieved of his supervision by the Department of Corrections in 2012, but he remained a registered sex offender. An earlier story mistakenly said he’d been taken off the registry.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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