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Without defendant, emotional opening to sex assault trial

Enrique Ruiz | Submitted photo

Enrique Ruiz | Submitted photo

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Updated: January 11, 2014 6:26AM

The defendant’s chair sat empty, but emotional testimony from Enrique Ruiz’s alleged victim filled the courtroom on Monday as Ruiz’s trial on sex assault charges began without him.

Ruiz, 85, is believed to have fled the country shortly before Thanksgiving in order to avoid facing charges he raped the girl, who is a relative, inside his Aurora home. Ruiz had been free on bail at the time of his disappearance. Assistant State’s Attorney Lori Schmidt used her opening statement to jurors to highlight evidence against Ruiz, while also explaining to jurors why Ruiz was not in court.

“He chose not to be present. He fled the state of Illinois,” Schmidt said, noting Ruiz’s passport is missing and that he has a home in Mexico City.

Ruiz’s attorney, Sam Partida, tried unsuccessfully to delay the trial before Judge James Hallock last week. Partida did not offer an opening statement. Ruiz, who previously pleaded not guilty, was arrested in 2011 after an investigation into assaults that took place between 2004 and 2010, according to court records.

Schmidt said the girl wrote a letter to her mother that said Ruiz, who she referred to using the Spanish term “abuelito” for grandfather, had touched her inappropriately, but no one took action until the girl, in sixth grade at the time, told a school counselor about what had happened. That prompted an investigation by the Kane County Child Advocacy Center.

On the witness stand, the girl cried and struggled to catch her breath at times during questioning by Schmidt. The girl spoke of three times Ruiz assaulted her inside his home, twice in a bedroom and once in his living room, while other young relatives were outside playing.

She said one time she kicked Ruiz in the face, but that he laughed when she did so to fend him off. She described Ruiz placing his hand over her mouth during one assault and telling her not to talk to anyone about what happened.

Partida briefly cross-examined the girl after a short break for her to regain her composure. In response to his questions, the girl said she didn’t remember specific details of when the three incidents occurred or what type of clothing either she or Ruiz was wearing when the assaults occurred. Partida attempted to ask about her feelings on her parents’ divorce, but the question was blocked by Hallock. The girl gave her mother the letter around the time the divorce was finalized.

Ruiz watched the girl, her brother and other children in the family when they missed school due to illness and during the summer, according to testimony. The girl’s 11-year-old brother also testified, telling jurors his sister confided in him about Ruiz’s touching her. The brother acknowledged he didn’t tell anyone because he had promised her he wouldn’t.

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