Aspen trial begins in groping case involving Basalt housekeeper, Carbondale construction worker
Either a Basalt housekeeper was groped by a man who rescued her from a balcony she was trapped on or it was a simple misunderstanding.
That was the upshot of opening arguments made Tuesday in Pitkin County District Court, where Carbondale construction worker Luis Santiago-Narvaez is being tried on felony charges of unlawful sexual contact and second-degree burglary.
Arguments began at 3:55 p.m., some 15 minutes after a 12-member, two-alternate jury was selected following hours of questioning by prosecutors and defense attorney Ted Hess.
“This case is going to come down to one fundamental question that is: Who do you believe, and do you believe it is beyond a reasonable doubt?” Hess told the jury.
The trial comes after the housekeeper accused Santiago-Narvaez of making sexual advances toward her by touching her breasts and buttocks. The alleged exchange happened after the housekeeper had been stranded on a balcony, located outside of the master room of a Basalt home, for four to five hours. It was Nov. 6, and the woman went on the balcony to clean the windows, prosecutor Matthew Barrett told the jury.
“She stepped on the balcony, and the slide door closed and it locked, and she didn’t have a key to get back in,” Barrett said. “She was trapped on the outside of that home, stranded with no way to get back in.”
The home next door, which shares a driveway with the one where the housekeeper was stranded, was under construction at the time. Hours later, Santiago-Narvaez, who did not know the woman, pulled up in the driveway in a Honda, Barrett said. The housekeeper told him of her plight and he entered the home and went upstairs and unlocked the door and brought her inside. It was cold outside, and the two hugged, Barrett said.
“She thanks him for letting her inside, but that wasn’t enough for the defendant,” Barrett alleged.
Santiago-Narvaez grabbed the accuser’s behind, prompting her to push him away and “literally (push) him down the steps,” Barrett said.
At the bottom of the stairwell, Santiago-Narvaez grabbed the alleged victim’s breasts, pushed her against the wall and asked her for her phone number, Barrett said. The woman said she was married — she wasn’t — but that didn’t deter the suspect, Barrett said.
“He replied, ‘It doesn’t bother me,’” Barrett said.
Even so, Santiago-Narvaez ceased his alleged advances and left the home, Barrett said.
The woman called the homeowner, Anne Grayson Stover, to tell her about what happened, leading Stover to call 911, Barrett said. Soon after, Basalt police contacted the construction foreman next door. The foreman had photos of all his workers, including Santiago-Narvaez, and texted them to police. The woman positively identified Santiago-Narvaez as the suspect, Barrett said.
“She needed a good Samaritan,” Barrett told the jury, “and what she got was the defendant.”
Hess, however, painted a different scenario, one in which the housekeeper hugged Santiago-Narvaez after he brought her inside because she was grateful and cold.
“She threw her arms around Mr. Santiago, and she thanked him, and the hug went on for a bit,” Hess told the jury. “Mr. Santiago could feel her shivering as she warmed up, and after the two released each other from the hug, she escorted him outside the master bedroom and down the stairs to the front door.”
Hess said Santiago-Narvaez did indeed ask for her phone number, and he also “made a pass at her.”
But he said Santiago-Narvaez didn’t intend to grope her when he “inadvertently brushed against her breast.”
Hess also suggested Basalt police unfairly interrogated Santiago-Narvaez, telling the suspect they had video of the incident — which they didn’t — and could generate DNA evidence that would prove him guilty.
Stover, the homeowner, was the prosecution’s sole witness on the opening day of trial. She said the accuser was upset when she called her on the phone and “close to” being hysterical.
Santiago-Narvaez, who is in his mid 30s, was aided by an interpreter. The trial, which is being presided over by Judge Gail Nichols, is expected to end before Friday evening.
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