Prosecutor orders arrest of woman as material witness to testify against her alleged abuser

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney
Carter F. McCall | BDN
Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney
Posted Sept. 20, 2013, at 9:03 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 20, 2013, at 9:38 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A woman authorities believe to be the victim of a brutal two-day domestic violence assault in April was arrested on a material witness warrant after reportedly telling people she didn’t want to testify against her alleged abuser, according to Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney.

Jessica Ruiz, 35, was served with the arrest warrant at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday in Chelsea and taken to Kennebec County Jail in Augusta until the appearance at Waterville District Court the next afternoon of Robert A. Robinson, 45, of Chelsea, who is accused of assaulting Ruiz.

Ruiz was served with the warrant to compel her to testify, said Maloney. She was released on unsecured bail on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s court appearance for Robinson was continued. Trials for two separate cases against Robinson will likely be scheduled for mid-October, said Maloney.

Lisa Whittier, the attorney appointed for Ruiz, said the use of the warrant was an “abuse of power” by the district attorney’s office.

“I’ve seen the material witness statute used, but never on a victim like this,” she said on Friday. “It’s an abuse of power and further traumatizes victims who shouldn’t be traumatized.”

Maloney said the decision was made to try to save Ruiz’s life.

“Without a doubt it was a bad political decision, but it was the right decision to save her life and to protect the community,” she said. “He is an incredibly dangerous person.”

Robinson is a lifetime registrant on Maine’s Sex Offender Registry for 10 felony convictions.

On or about April 10, Ruiz was sleeping when Robinson started yelling at her, according to Maloney.

“He grabbed her and started hitting her in the face and then proceeded to beat her with a large ring that left imprints on her body,” said Maloney. “Then he started hitting her with his belt, which also left marks all over her body. He hit her with a broom so hard that it broke in half, and then he hit her with the broken half.”

He forced her on her hands and knees and continued to beat her, Maloney said. He also held her by the throat.

Before all this began, she said, Robinson had dug a grave for Ruiz.

“He went to bring her to the grave and that’s when she was able to get away,” she said.

Robinson was charged with domestic violence assault, domestic violence criminal threatening and domestic violence terrorizing. All are felony charges, Maloney said.

Robinson has been incarcerated since the alleged two-day assault took place. He is currently in Kennebec County Jail in Augusta.

Maloney said Ruiz initially wanted to testify against Robinson, but changed her mind after meeting with Robinson’s mother and defense attorney.

“After that meeting, she cut off all contact with us,” she said. “She told her in-home care providers she was going to disappear.”

Whittier said that’s not true.

“She fully intended to testify,” she said. “If she received a subpoena, she would’ve replied.”

Maloney said two subpoenas were issued for Ruiz, but the DA never received a reply. Whittier said they were sent to the wrong address.

After no reply to either subpoena, the warrant was signed by a judge, said Maloney. This is one of the rare cases where she would issue the warrant for a victim.

“The idea of using the material witness warrant is something I learned about in district attorneys meetings for what to do with our worst domestic assault cases,” she said. “Where the victim turns from cooperative to uncooperative. We discussed this as something that could possibly be used in our worst cases.”

The urgency was necessary, she said, because Ruiz is the only witness to the two-day-long assault, which is often the case in domestic violence incidents.

“Sometimes the state has to step in,” said Maloney. “I know it’s terrifying but it has to be done because there’s no other way to prosecute him. I wish we didn’t have to [issue the warrant].”

Robinson has the right to face his accuser, said Maloney, so Ruiz was needed to testify or else the case would have to be dropped.

William Baghdoyan, Robinson’s attorney, said Robinson wasn’t going anywhere because he had a separate charge against him.

“He is currently being held on two different charges,” he said.

However, Maloney said both charges involve Ruiz as the only witness. Robinson is also charged with tampering with a witness.

Whittier said Ruiz was treated “very poorly by the district attorney’s office,” but she won’t be seeking any sort of reprimand.

“They abused the material witness statute, but they did nothing illegal,” she said.

Baghdoyan said he’s been involved with criminal law for 32 years and has never seen a victim of a domestic violence assault arrested on a material witness warrant.

Maloney defended using the statute, but stressed that this is a rare case.

“We won’t use it often. It’s only for the cases where if I didn’t use it, I’d be in the position of talking about why she was killed,” she said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

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