Vega faces hundreds of years for sex crimes
HUNTINGTON — Cabell County prosecutors’ story of a young, troubled girl brave enough to tell her story of sexual assault years later led to a jury convicting a Huntington man on dozens of criminal counts, essentially placing him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Michael Daniel Vega, 49, was convicted Wednesday of 20 counts of sexual abuse by a person in position of trust, seven counts of first-degree sexual assault and 13 counts of first-degree sexual abuse. He faces 440 to 1,425 years in prison when he is sentenced by Cabell Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell in January, plus an additional 50 years of supervised release should he ever be paroled out of prison.
He is already serving a five- to 25-year prison sentence, with 40 years of post-release supervision, after he was convicted of a similar charge in Wayne County.
In all, five young girls have said they were sexually assaulted by Vega.
The defendant was emotionless as Farrell read the conviction on all 40 counts out loud and polled the jury. He quickly left the courtroom afterward; he had been scheduled for a dialysis appointment directly after the sentencing was read.
After Vega left, the first victim who came forward burst into tears and hugged assistant prosecutors Joe Fincham and Ryan Hamady. Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney Sean “Corky” Hammers said it was a hard sight to see.
“It’s obviously difficult for children to talk about such heinous acts that occurred to them five years ago,” he said. “In this case it certainly took the courage of these two young ladies and the hard work of the West Virginia State Police and the two assistant prosecutors to get this conviction.”
Defense attorney Tim Rosinsky said he still had questions about the inconsistency in the evidence presented.
“It’s my job to point them out and the jury’s job to see the truth. I believe in the truth,” he said. “I believe in our system, and unfortunately I’m going to have to accept this verdict.”
In the weeks before his trial, Vega had turned down a plea offer to two counts of sexual abuse by a person in a position of trust, which has a 10-to 20-year penalty per count. In a speech, Vega said even if Farrell had offered him “a slap on the wrist” he would have turned it down, declaring his innocence.
The allegations against Vega started last year when an employee at an Ona group home noticed a girl break down during a family visit. The girl’s parents had disclosed a family friend’s daughter was alleging sexual assault against someone, and so the girl had asked to speak with the family friend because she knew what they were going through, for the first time disclosing the sexual abuse at the hands of Vega.
From there, meetings with West Virginia state troopers led to the disclosure of allegations against Vega by five different females. At the time of their rapes, this week’s trial victims were 10 and 11.
The first victim, who lived in the group home, detailed the attacks in a video-recorded interview with troopers and listed other girls who might have experienced the same thing. When the second victim — a student who excels in the classroom and aspires to join the armed forces — came in for an interview, she did not know why she was there. Her face turned white and emotionless when the trooper brought up Vega.
Around 2011, the girls had been friends with a child Vega knew and who lived at the same Westmoreland apartment complex as they did. Vega would take the girls to the park, out to eat and other places, the victims said, and they would also spend time at his apartment on 2nd Street in Huntington.
While having little connection to one another in the years since the attacks, the girls’ stories told at trial were similar in nature. Both mentioned a “tickle” game that took place on the bed in Vega’s apartment. Both said he would sexually assault them while they took driving lessons and said he had offered to buy them clothing, phones and other items.
In his opening statement, Rosinsky said there were more than 100 inconsistencies in the stories the girls gave since the cases started. In a rare occurrence, Rosinsky said he had been able to interview the girls before the trial.
“When you lie (the interviews) side by side by side, the pictures were different, but the jury saw ultimately what the picture was, and they believed the girls,” he said. “My job is to present a scenario of where they have reasonable doubt, and obviously that effort fell short.”
Hammers called the inconsistencies minor, given it had been so long since the events took place.
“I think they heard the testimony of (WVSP Cpl. Marlene Moore) and she put it all in perspective,” he said. “When you have two children who are traumatized sexually, it’s really unreasonable that everything is going to line up timeline and when it happened, especially when it happened five years ago.”
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.