LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Three Vietnamese women who were children when they were raped and sexually assaulted in Cambodia by a onetime Southland resident told a federal judge today that the attacks had a lasting, painful impact on their lives.
The hour-long hearing on Monday, July 25, took place prior to next week’s scheduled sentencing of Ronald “John” Gerard Boyajian, who was found guilty in March of traveling repeatedly to Cambodia to sexually assault impoverished children, some of whom testified to grueling sexual attacks that had jurors blinking back tears.
Delays kept the case at a stalemate for seven years prior to the start of the month-long trial.
The proceedings were again placed on a temporary hold while the defendant — who is representing himself — unsuccessfully petitioned U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder to allow him to fire his standby counsel, and then accused the judge of secretly working against him behind the scenes.
Such tactics were familiar to the court. The case docket has more than 1,500 entries, most of them motions filed almost daily by Boyajian in which he objects to each aspect of the case.
“I am tired of unfounded allegations that you make (in order for them) to be part of the record,” the judge responded, referring to the defendant’s expected appeal.
The women, who have now been flown from Cambodia to Los Angeles twice this year to appear before Snyder, were able to make their victim impact statements.
Speaking through a Vietnamese translator, one of the women asked the judge “not to allow this man to leave prison because possibly there are other children out there that it could happen to — just like it happened to me.”
Crying, she said, “I don’t want this to happen to other children. I want other children to have a happy life.”
A second woman told the court that since she was attacked by Boyajian more than seven years ago, she has been unable to have normal relationships with men.
“When I meet a man or I am out and about, I feel fear,” she said, adding that she often finds herself “grouchy” for no apparent reason.
Another one of Boyajian’s victims said it has been difficult for her to get married, “and my friends often look down on me.”
Boyajian, 55, looked away from the witness stand and showed no reaction to the statements. He faces up to 30 years behind bars, with the oft-postponed sentencing hearing now set for Aug. 1.
A federal jury deliberated for about five hours before returning guilty verdicts on all three counts contained in a federal indictment initially handed down in September 2009.
“This case is about a man who wanted to sexually assault children — and he found a place where he could do that,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Vanessa Baehr-Jones told the jury at the start of his trial in February.
Boyajian traveled to Cambodia — one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries — about three dozen times between 2002 and 2009, where he engaged in sexual activity with Vietnamese girls between the ages of 8 and 11 in a village outside Phnom Penh frequented by child molesters and known as “Kilo 11.”
One of the girls he victimized — now an adult working in Cambodia to help fellow victims of sexual predators — told jurors that Boyajian paid her grandmother to leave her alone with him in a wooden shack. She described being raped, beaten and bitten on the legs and calves by the defendant during multiple attacks.
Boyajian — who was previously convicted in 1994 on nearly two dozen counts of statutory rape in Orange County — was found guilty of international travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with minors, engaging in illicit sexual conduct with a minor in foreign places, and commission of a felony offense involving a minor while required to register as a sex offender.
Boyajian was among the first defendants charged under an international law enforcement initiative specifically targeting Americans traveling to Cambodia for the purpose of sexually abusing children.
Operation Twisted Traveler was an effort by the Justice Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to crack down on sex tourism.
Boyajian has been in custody in Los Angeles since his removal from Cambodia seven years ago. In the years since he was charged, Boyajian lodged a raft of motions and continuances, ensuring the case remained deadlocked.
In the minutes before the jury was called into the courtroom for opening statements on Feb. 3, Boyajian made a motion to have Snyder removed from the case. Following the verdicts, the defendant immediately filed motions objecting to the jury’s racial mix, among other complaints.
The investigation of Boyajian was begun by the Cambodian non-governmental organization Action Pour Les Enfants — APLE — whose investigators said they witnessed Boyajian visiting a child brothel in Svay Pak, a red-light district on the outskirts of the capital of Phnom Penh.
“It was here — halfway across the world — that foreigners like the defendant could freely target children who were being sold into prostitution,” Baehr-Jones told the jury.
Boyajian was charged under the Protect Act, which became law in 2003 and made it easier for U.S. authorities to prosecute people for overseas sex crimes. Federal authorities have made more than 70 arrests under the act in countries including Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines.