The Case of the Traveling Semen

A defendant tries to explain how his sperm landed inside a stranger

"If there are two reasonable explanations for the same facts, you must accept the one that favors the defendant," Speiser said. "You must do this in this case. End of discussion."

Prosecutor Kal Kaliban is a calm fellow, but he had one word to describe the defense's sperm theories: "ridiculous."

"Use your common sense," Kaliban told the seven men and five women of the jury. "We all know how his semen got in her vagina. He was inside her."

Piceno: "I didn't know she was old"
Piceno: "I didn't know she was old"

*   *   *

It wasn't a surprise that Piceno testified. The defense needed a miracle. The victim, now 75, and her husband had given emotional testimony through translators. Jurors looked sickened by the assault.

After a two-minute hushed discussion with Speiser, Piceno stood. Wearing an untucked white button-down shirt and khakis, he walked slowly to the witness stand. His hands were shoved into his pants pockets. His eyes focused on the carpet.

"Nobody wants to be in this position," he said softly. "I'm sorry for everything that's happened."

"Why did you pull her pants off?" Speiser asked.

"Because I wanted to have sex with this lady," he said. "I tried to get hard, and I couldn't. I just masturbated."

Every prosecutor dreams of drilling a defendant. When it was his turn for questioning, Kaliban pounced, asking if Piceno expected the jury to believe that he stalked that woman, beat her, pulled her clothes off, digitally penetrated her, ejaculated but never entered her?

"I couldn't get it up," Piceno said. "I don't know what I was thinking that night. It just happened. I didn't plan it out."

An incredulous Kaliban fired back, "If you couldn't get erect, how did you come?"

"I don't know what happened. All of a sudden, I just came. It just came out."

The surveillance video proves Piceno's assault lasted 10 minutes. After he finished, he walked away, stopped, turned around and re-entered the Dumpster area. Seconds later, he re-emerged carrying something.

"Why did you go back inside?" Kaliban asked.

"I took her shoes," he said. "I thought they had my fingerprints on them."

In one of his last moves, Kaliban displayed four enlarged pictures of Huong taken in the UCI Medical Center. A large, gory cut required numerous stitches. Her face was black, blue, purple and red. White fluid dripped from her swollen-shut eyes. An eardrum had been ruptured. There were abrasions and lacerations outside and inside the vagina. Her upper chest showed discoloration as if she'd been scalded. Three of her ribs were broken. There was extensive bleeding in her brain. Blood had poured into her lungs, stomach and urine. Two hours after the attack, a trash-truck driver rescued her. The intensive-care unit at the hospital held her for eight days.

"Take a look at those pictures," Kaliban ordered Piceno.

"I don't want to look at it," he said. "I didn't hit her that many times. I don't remember hitting her in her ribs."

"But you remember that you didn't put your penis in her?"

An annoyed Piceno shot back, "I know for a fact I didn't."

The jury didn't buy it. After less than six hours of deliberations on June 18, they announced that Piceno was guilty of two felonies: rape and inflicting great bodily injury on an elderly person. The statutory minimum sentence is 15 years to life in prison.

Piceno showed no emotion. In fact, he asked to be punished "immediately." Hoffer declined. Sentencing is set for July 17.

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