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First conviction in Virginia burglaries; community not convinced

By George Joseph
May 05, 2010 22:09 IST
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Though Dagoberto Soto-Ramirez, 26, from New York was convicted, the Indian community's apathy or fear or both was evident at the trial of those accused of serial burglaries in Indian homes in Northern Virginia.

About 50 Indian homes were burgled, but not many from the community came forward to testify. They were not seen in court during the proceedings either. Soto-Ramirez was convicted on the testimony of Diane Abassi, 22, an Afghan American, who came forward to identify him.

"It is unfortunate," said Raman Kumar, one of the earliest victims of the robberies.

"Several community members had seen Soto-Ramirez and his wife Melinda Soto, but they were scared to come forward. The entire south Asian community is thankful to Diane Abassi to come forward and testify multiple times in front of the judge and jury. As a community we feel that the government should provide a witness protection plan and educate the community to come forward without being scared. This will ensure that the bad guys get prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Soto-Ramirez was sentenced to a year in prison for the attempted burglary charge, and was ordered by Judge Jan L Brodie to pay a $1,500 fine for possession of a burglarious tool. He was convicted of attempting to burgle Abbasi's home in Fairfax.

He was a suspect in over 30 burglaries in the area from February through November 2009.

Soto-Ramirez went to trial early this month, but the jury could not come to a consensus. Last week, a new jury heard the case. Abbasi testified that as she was standing on the top floor in her parents' six-bedroom home, Soto-Ramirez climbed a staircase and got within a few feet of her.

'I saw every side of his face as he climbed our staircase, the front and both sides. When I said "hello?" he turned and ran,' she reportedly said.

"The burglars terrorised the community and stole more than a million (dollars) worth of jewelry," Kumar said. "As a community we feel partial justice is served. The bad part is that a one year prison sentence is not enough. Also a $1,500 fine is too small."

In January, another judge dismissed the majority of charges against Soto-Ramirez, his wife Melinda Soto and Edward Gray. Charges against Gray in neighboring Loudoun County were also dismissed earlier. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement put an immigration detainer on him.

There have been no burglaries in the area since November 12, 2009. In October, there were seven burglaries in one week.

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