A Norwalk dental office manager found guilty by a jury earlier this year of the sexual assault a dental assistant was sentenced to eight years in jail last week.
Rafael Arias, 40, of 5 Hillwood Ave., Norwalk, passed up an offer to settle the case by making a guilty plea and accepting a two year jail sentence and avoid his week-long February trial. Jurors took only 2 1/2 hours to convict him of first-degree sexual assault and third-degree sexual assault.
Along with the sentence handed down by trial Judge Gary White last Wednesday, Arias will have to participate in sex offender evaluation and treatment, obey a standing criminal protective order barring him from contacting the former female employee, who took the stand against him, and will have to stay on the state’s Sex Offender Registry for the rest of his life.
Also in agreement with the sentencing requests of Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Ferencek, White ruled that after being released from jail, Arias will spend the next 12 years on Special Parole. If he violates the conditions of his parole, he can be put back in prison for up to two years.
While arguing for the eight year jail sentence, Ferencek referred to what Arias did to the victim in the case and the other girls that testified as “sexual bullying.” Ferencek said the testimony clearly showed, “That is what he is, a bully.”
Arias’ attorney Stephan Seeger said, “I was shocked that the sentence was that high.” Seeger explained that on the spectrum of rapes, that he did not believe it to be a violent one and it was acknowledged not to have been as violent as other cases, he said.
“So we were thinking the judge would hand down a sentence of approximately four years, which would have been more appropriate in Arias’s situation,” Seeger said.
Arias was arrested in Sept. 2012 for groping and digitally penetrating the 23-year-old female dental assistant just outside dental office where they worked on West Avenue in Norwalk.
The employee testified that her mother, who was going to West Avenue Dental to have implants, introduced her to Arias, who managed the office.
Arias immediately hired divorced mother of one young child, who was then working at Whole Foods in Westport, and the woman said Arias was constantly touching her or stroking her hair, and asking her out. She said she told him that she had a boyfriend and wasn’t interested, but Arias kept bothering her.
After telling one of her co-workers of her problems with Arias, the co-worker advised her that was the way Arias was and to “never go out with him, ” she said on the stand.
When asked why she never complained about Arias’ behavior, the woman said, “Because I was afraid the way he would react to me. My job would be in jeopardy.” The woman said she transferred to the company’s Fairfield dental office, but was called back to work in Norwalk for a week during the summer of 2012.
But she testified that when she went to the Norwalk office on Wednesday, July 12, 2012 at about 10:30 a.m. Arias told her he was leaving the office for the day and asked her to follow him. She testified that in a corridor just outside the office Arias put down a cup of coffee and his briefcase and pushed her against a wall and began kissing her and groping her breasts under her scrubs shirt. She said he pulled her hand onto his crotch and then put his hand down her pants and digitally penetrated her.
During the trial State’s Attorney Paul Ferencek also brought to the stand a number of other young women who testified that Arias had bothered them too.
Arias’ attorney Stephan Seeger said he will appeal the jury’s verdict and sentence, saying Judge White made a mistake allowing Ferencek to present witnesses to the jury who described for them a pattern of sexual behavior that likely convicted his client.
Such propensity evidence can easily sway a juror, he said.
“The jury’s job is to focus on the evidence in this case. The danger is the jury can draw a conclusion that if it happened on former occasions it must have happened on this occasion. There are rules that preclude testimony about a person’s propensity from being admissible,” he said.
Seeger said that his appeal will center on the question of whether Arias’ conduct with the other women rose to the level of it being “aberrant” which is one of the exceptions that Ferencek relied upon that allowed that testimony to be aired in front of the jury.