After three years of seeking justice, rape survivor shares her story
May 19, 2017 02:36 PM
Editor's note: This story contains mature subject matter and may not be suitable for all readers.
Update: The day after this story aired, Buddy Espinosa, General Manager of Toyota of Santa Fe, called KOB offering to help Briana Chavez. Working with Sandia Area Federal Credit Union, the New Mexico Attorney General's Office and Chavez's family, Espinosa secured a new car to replace the vehicle Chavez had been driving since her attack. To see Chavez's reactions when showed her new vehicle, watch the full video story.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- After a brutal rape that left Briana Chavez in the ICU for two weeks, she thought her attacker would be brought to justice quickly and her severe injuries would be enough proof to secure a slam-dunk case. Briana was wrong. Law enforcement failed her. Then the Second Judicial District Attorney failed her. It’s almost as if she was victimized over and over.
On May 29, 2014, Briana lived in Phoenix but was in Albuquerque visiting family. While in town, she connected with an old high school friend Joseph Apodaca through Facebook. The two agreed to meet at the Lotus Nightclub in downtown Albuquerque. They danced, they drank, and they even made out on the dance floor, according to a witness.
A police report stated at some point the two agreed to leave the nightclub and have sex inside Apodaca’s cousin’s truck parked behind the Lotus Nightclub. But soon after that, the night took a very dark turn.
“I felt gross,” Briana told KOB. “I felt like what did I do that night to make this happen or what even happened?”
Inside that truck, Apodaca didn’t have sex with Chavez; he brutalized her while she was unconscious. Court documents state he violated her in every way imaginable, literally tearing her insides to shreds and pulling parts of her internal organs out of her body. The attack left Briana bleeding profusely, nearly to the point of bleeding to death.
Police records state that Apodaca placed Briana’s limp body into her own car and he drove more than 100 miles per hour to Belen and left her in a dirt parking lot. His cousin followed behind and the two drove back to Albuquerque.
Briana’s father discovered her and immediately called 911. The next two weeks would be spent at the Intensive Care Unit. Briana underwent surgeries to repair internal organs, had to live with a colostomy bag and to this day suffers from internal pain.
Unbelievably, when law enforcement detectives met Briana in the hospital, they were skeptical of her story.
“The police who we dealt with made me feel like it was my fault. They made me feel like, ‘well, you dressed this way, you danced this way, you drank this many drinks- it looks like you were consenting to it.’ From that perspective, they made me feel like it was my fault,” Briana said.
The District Attorney’s Office under Kari Brandenburg’s leadership dismissed all charges against Apodaca. Then Briana’s family made one last plea for justice directly to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.
“There wasn’t the type of preparation to build the case so it lagged in the justice system,” Balderas said. “The family was very frustrated because there weren’t enough resources invested in the case early on to really build the case.”
Balderas believes prosecutors at the district attorney’s office were afraid to move the case forward worried that Apodaca would use the consent defense.
Knowing this wasn’t a case about consensual sex, it was a brutal attack, the attorney general’s office took it to trial. Each step of the way, Balderas was there, at times sitting with Briana in court.
Apodaca was convicted of two counts of criminal sexual penetration and tampering with evidence. The man, who was at first given a pass by the DA, was sentenced to 36 years in prison.
Briana is bravely going public hoping her story inspires other rape survivors to keep fighting to be heard.
“A lot of women feel lost or how I did-- ashamed and scared. I got over it and I want to help other women get over it too.”
Updated: May 19, 2017 02:36 PM
Created: May 02, 2017 09:01 PM
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