WAILUKU - A woman was thankful after 2nd Circuit Judge Richard Bissen ordered a five-year prison term for a man convicted of sexually assaulting her at a Lahaina public housing complex last year.
"I can't say enough about this judge. I am so incredibly impressed," the woman said after the sentencing Friday for Mark Rasmus. "I just have the utmost respect for this judge and his ability to hear the truth and know it. That's powerful."
Rasmus, 51, had pleaded no contest to two counts of third-degree sexual assault of the 64-year-old woman, who was a neighbor. The offenses occurred March 27, 2012, at the state Piilani housing complex, where both were living.
As part of a plea agreement struck on the eve of a scheduled trial, the prosecution dismissed two counts of first-degree sexual assault, kidnapping and another third-degree sexual assault against Rasmus. The defense and prosecution recommended probation and release at his sentencing for Rasmus, who has been incarcerated for more than seven months.
His attorney, Andrew Martin, said Rasmus "never contested the fact that there was some sexual contact" between him and the woman. But Rasmus maintained the sexual contact was consensual, Martin said.
Rasmus was living in the housing complex that mostly includes senior citizens after being hit by a semi truck in a pedestrian accident in the 1980s, he said. After being in a coma for a month or two, Rasmus had to relearn to walk, talk and function, Martin said. "This still affects him today and will for the rest of his life," he said.
Rasmus was committed to following court orders if placed on probation, he said.
"I'm just going to do what's requested of me," Rasmus said in court. "I hope to be released and put my life back together."
Bissen said he believed the defense and prosecution agreed on the correct charges in the case. "But the sentence that was agreed upon, the court disagrees with," he said. "This defendant is not a good candidate for probation."
"He has no remorse, no acknowledgment," Bissen said.
After reviewing Rasmus' presentence investigation that included police reports of the incident, Bissen said the woman's account of what happened was corroborated by both Rasmus and an independent witness.
The reports indicated that the woman had gone to Rasmus' apartment to get help fixing a stereo when she was sexually assaulted.
Bissen noted that in a statement to the court, Rasmus said the victim "ruined his life."
"No, Mr. Rasmus, you've done this to you," the judge told him. "There's no question in my mind that you forced yourself onto this victim."
Deputy Prosecutor Kim Whitworth said the victim had battled homelessness, depression and mental illness before securing an apartment at the complex about two years ago. "That safety and space was violated by Mr. Rasmus," Whitworth said.
The woman is an "iconic figure" in West Maui, she said. Before the resolution of the case, police officers had called Whitworth to ask about its progress. "That's how well-loved she is on the west side," she said.
Speaking in court Friday, the woman said that after being sexually assaulted, she became "a recluse in my own home," reluctant to attend social events, walk her dog and continue her volunteer work in the community.
"My self-confidence has been shattered as well as my self-esteem," she said. "I have recurring nightmares of the horrific event, as well as panic attacks."
As a survivor, she said she wanted to raise public awareness about the crime.
Speaking outside of court after the sentencing, the woman said she was thankful that her voice was heard by the judicial system.
"For the first time in my life, I have been treated with the utmost of respect - by the Maui Police Department, the prosecutor's office," she said.
In addition to Whitworth, she gave credit to Deputy Prosecutor Iwalani Mountcastle, who handled the case initially and "who lifted me and helped me believe in myself when I didn't."
She also thanked Lahaina police Detective Gordon Sagun, who investigated the case and "upheld my dignity."
The woman also wanted to thank the Salvation Army for services she received there.
"This is a victory for all women, helpless children, people that are preyed upon," she said. "Now I'm going to begin the first day of my new life free from fear."
Rasmus was ordered to register as a sex offender.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.