PRINCETON: Plea deal discussed in sexual assault case

DATE POSTED: Monday, November 3, 2014 4:32 PM EST
By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer

An illegal immigrant charged with sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in Princeton would agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge to avoid going to prison, although it could lead him to being deported.

Through his lawyer, Miguel Medina-Lopez, a native of Mexico living in Princeton, has made a counter-proposal to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. In return for pleading to third-degree child endangerment, Mr. Medina-Lopez is seeking five years’ probation. Authorities, however, originally offered him a plea deal calling for five years in prison in return for pleading to sexual assault.

"I would like a little time to discuss it with the victim and her family," assistant Prosecutor John Carbonara said of the counter-offer during Mr. Medina-Lopez’s latest appearance in Mercer County Superior Court Friday.

Mr. Medina-Lopez was assisted by a Spanish interpreter for his court appearance. His inability to speak English could be a factor if plea negotiations fail between his lawyer and the Prosecutor’s Office.

Defense attorney Carols Diaz-Cobo indicated that if plea bargain talks break down, he would seek to file a motion to suppress an inculpatory statement Mr. Medina-Lopez had made to a Spanish-speaking detective in the Prosecutor’s Office. He said Mr. Medina-Lopez might not have been aware of his right to a lawyer before giving the statement. When Judge Robert C. Billmeier asked him if Mr. Medina-Lopez had been assigned an interpreter, the lawyer answered no.

Authorities have alleged that Mr. Medina-Lopez sexually assaulted an 11-year-old girl in Princeton in May 2011. He was staying with the girl’s family, authorities said.

Earlier this year, the girl broke her silence and told officials at John Witherspoon Middle School, where she is a student, about the matter. Princeton police subsequently arrested him in March and charged him, although details of the arrest were never publicly disclosed until months later.

A Mercer County grand jury on July 16 handed up an indictment charging him with two counts of second-degree sexual assault and one count of third-degree endangering the welfare of a child. Second-degree charges carry up to 10 years in state prison.

Mr. Medina-Lopez, 34, is being held in the Mercer County Correction Center on $50,000 bail. His wife and his sister were in the courtroom to watch the proceeding, although the victim and her family did not attend.

Later during the session, Mr. Diaz-Cobo said Mr. Medina-Lopez’s criminal case history was incorrect, in that it appears to have information for someone else.

A criminal conviction, either through a guilty plea or after a trial, opens Mr. Medina-Lopez to possible deportation. Mr. Diaz-Cobo had no comment outside the courtroom.