ROCKVILLE, MD (ABC7) — An undocumented immigrant who returned to the United States after being deported for dealing drugs, has been sentenced for a rape he committed 22 years ago.
In October 1996, Jose Abarca, now 43, crawled through the window of a Colesville, Md. home and raped a deaf woman asleep on a sunroom couch. Abarca pointed a handgun at the victim and motioned for her to stay silent before he vanished into the autumn night.
The victim had a basic suspect description, and reported seeing a suspicious white work van in the neighborhood the day before, but with no solid leads, the case went cold.
In 2008, Montgomery County Police arrested Abarca for dealing cocaine. He spent less than a year in jail, and was then deported back to his native Mexico. Only days later, authorities linked Abarca’s DNA with the evidence collected from the Colesville rape scene. However, Abarca was long gone with no forwarding address.
Abarca, however, snuck back across the border in 2017, and returned to Maryland. In April of this year, he was pulled over for a broken taillight. The routine traffic stop netted the wanted rapist.
ABC7 was first to report the big break in the decades-old cold case. At that time, defense attorney Victor Del Pino stated his client had been wrongly charged. Yet in September, Abarca did an about face, and pled guilty to first-degree rape.
At sentencing Friday, Abarca’s teenage daughter and wife of 18 years clung onto a box of tissues as they listened to Del Pino attempt to squeeze mercy out of the judge.
“I do think it’s important to recognize that this case occurred in 1996,” Del Pino opined. “He was a young man. He was not married. He did not have children. I think it’s fair to say he was not the same man that he is now.”
Abarca was born in Mexico where he attained a sixth-grade education. He illegally immigrated to the U.S. in his late teens, and settled in the DC area. He made a living painting and cutting lawns. Some of that money helped supplement his aging father and other relatives south of the border. But then came that 2008 cocaine distribution arrest, and Abarca’s subsequent deportation.
“Mr. Abarca had zero intention of returning to the United States for a number of reasons,” Del Pino stated. “It was out of necessity.”
As Del Pino explained it, Abarca and his family successfully re-acclimated to life in Mexico, attaining land, property and money. However, the drug trade seized their modest dynasty. Abarca’s wife and kids fled back to America in 2015, and Abarca followed suit in 2017.
Abarca has four children, ages two, six, 11, and 17. The oldest, a student at Gaithersburg High School, spoke before the court, pausing multiple times to regain her composure.
“He’s always been a good father to me. He’s always been there for me. I can’t say nothing against him.”
Del Pino noted that Abarca is a devout Catholic who pled guilty, in part, to “spare the victim of the trauma” of a days-long trial.
The prosecutor handling the case rebuffed that suggestion, noting that trauma has been a two-decade reality for the victim.
“The victim in this case has suffered in such a way, she wasn’t even able to fill out a victim impact statement,” Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Herdman shared.
Speaking through a Spanish translator, Abarca expressed remorse for his family’s current financial ruin and lack of a father figure. He did not apologize to the victim or explain what led him to commit a crime pointedly labeled by the judge as “abhorrent.”
“I am facing my family and a court of law,” Abarca stated as his wife and daughter wept. “I don’t want my children in the future to suffer the terrible things they’re suffering now. There is so much violence and crime around. No one in this life is perfect, as is written in the Bible, which I have been reading for the last seven to eight months.”
In his pre-sentence statement, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Michael Mason made clear that Abarca’s own actions had caused his family’s current state of peril.
“In this case, as in many cases, innocent people will suffer,” Judge Mason remarked. “Your children had no participation in this crime, they didn’t ask for this, nor did your wife. But that is true in almost every case that comes before the court.”
Judge Mason could have sent Abarca to prison for up to 40 years, but opted to give him a 25-year sentence. In accordance with Maryland judicial rules, Abarca must serve at least half of his sentence (12.5 years) before being eligible for parole, at which point U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to deport him back to Mexico. If Abarca returns to the U.S. a third time and is caught, he could be imprisoned for the rest of his life.
“Had you come before the court back in 1996… most probably for the offense in this case, you would have received a life sentence,” Judge Mason stated. “There are few crimes that are more abhorrent and detested by society than rape with a weapon.”
Del Pino explained Abarca’s wife and two younger children are living in the U.S. illegally. They have applied for asylum, citing rampant violence in Mexico. Their case is pending. Abarca’s two older children are U.S. citizens.