A 63-year-old Metairie man was convicted as charged on Thursday (April 14) of the sexual battery of a 5-year-old girl who lived near her family’s apartment.
Mario Chavez faces at least 25 years in prison for bringing the child into his Rye Street apartment where he committed the crime on June 20, 2014. Chavez, a Honduran immigrant who needed an interpreter to understand the testimony, was linked to the crime through DNA evidence and witness testimony.
The jury deliberated about 38 minutes in convicting Chavez as charged of sexual battery involving a child under age 13, which has a sentencing range of 25 years to 99 years in prison. Judge Adrian Adams of the 24th Judicial District Court will hand down Chavez’s punishment on April 21.
The child, then a pre-kindergarten student, was familiar with Chavez from seeing the man she called “Mario” while playing with another girl at the apartment building, she told Erika Dupépé, executive director of the Jefferson Children’s Advocacy Center. Jurors were shown a video recording of the forensic interview Dupépé conducted with the child in 2014.
The child told Dupépé that Chavez brought her into a bathroom and then to a bedroom, where the abuse happened. “And then I kept on telling him to stop. And he didn’t listen,” the child told Dupépé.
“He told me not to tell anyone, but I told my mom,” she said.
The child then ran home to her mother, falling down on the way. When her mother lifted the child’s dress to search for injuries, she noted that both the girl’s legs were in one leg opening of her panties, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The child’s mother testified on Wednesday that after finding her daughter in disarray, she went to confront her neighbor. “I told him the little girl accused him of touching her,” the mother, also a native of Honduras, testified through an interpreter. “He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘But the little girl said it was you.’”
She testified that when Chavez went to touch her daughter’s head during the confrontation, the child retreated nervously. “She backed up scared behind me,” the mother testified. “So her reaction, I didn’t like it.”
The child’s older sister testified she was in their apartment when she noticed the child crying. She eventually learned of the abuse allegation against Chavez. “We asked (her) if he’s the right guy,” the sister testified, speaking of Chavez. “She was pointing him out, saying that’s him.”
Sheriff’s Office detective Sgt. Terri Danna, then of the Personal Violence Unit, testified that the girl made “a disclosure” as to what occurred and “pointed to the upstairs bedroom” in saying where the abuse happened.
“She was very descriptive of what was in that bedroom,” Danna testified. The victim was able to accurately describe the striped sheets and a pillow on the bed, another bed on the floor, the TV on a nightstand, a calendar on the wall, and a crucifix next to the calendar.
The mother also found a piece of a pubic hair in the child’s panties, which she kept in a plastic sandwich bag as evidence for police, the mother testified.
Because the piece of hair did not include the follicle, which is more conducive to DNA testing, authorities sent the evidence to a lab in Virginia, Bode Cellmark Forensics, for mitochondrial testing.
Adrienne Broges, of Bode Cellmark Forensics, was qualified to testify as an expert in mitochondrial DNA analysis. She told jurors that Chavez could not be excluded as the contributor. However, she testified that based upon her calculations, less than one percent – specifically 0.691 percent – of the population would have the same DNA profile.
Chavez, who denied the accusation, was arrested and had been held awaiting trial in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna, in lieu of a $250,000 bond.
Assistant District Attorneys Rachel Africk and Angad Ghai prosecuted the case.