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April 18, 2014

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When politics come into alleged rape case against sergeant, DA says, ‘The Saudi government isn’t on trial’

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Leila Navidi

Mazen Alotaibi appears in Las Vegas Justice Court for a hearing at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Thursday, January 17, 2013.

Mazen Alotaibi Hearing

Mazen Alotaibi appears in Las Vegas Justice Court for a hearing at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Thursday, January 17, 2013. Alotaibi is charged with burglary, first degree kidnapping, two counts of sexual assault with a minor and sexually motivated coercion. Launch slideshow »

Politics were at play during a Clark County District Court hearing to reassess bail and decide if witnesses in Saudi Arabia would be allowed to testify via video conference during the trial of the Saudi air force sergeant charged with raping a teenage boy on New Year’s Eve.

District Court Judge Stefany Miley said that she could not allow the four witnesses who were in the Circus Circus hotel room at the time Mazen Alotaibi, 24, is accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy early on Dec. 31 to testify remotely because she had no way to guarantee that the Saudi Arabian government would uphold United States' perjury and contempt of court laws. She also kept Alotaibi’s bail at $1.7 million.

While Alotaibi was in Las Vegas on leave from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, others with him were not. Because they left San Antonio without permission, they are not allowed to leave Saudi Arabia, even to come back and testify in Alotaibi’s case.

Alotaibi’s attorney, Don Chairez, brought up several times how the case reflected on the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Chairez contended that the $1.7 million bail is unreasonable, noting that the Saudi government had inquired about paying it but that he told them to hold off because it was unfair.

“This is very embarrassing for (the Saudi government) that we would even think that Mr. Alotaibi would want to run away and go back,” Chairez said. “We believe we have a good case. We believe this 13-year-old kid is lying.”

Chairez contended that it was “bail by press release” in an effort to not look soft on crime.

He asked the judge to think about how badly the Italian courts have been portrayed for the retrial of American student Amanda Knox, who is accused in the death of her British roommate.

“I think we need to show (the Saudi government) a little bit of an olive branch to say, ‘Yes we aren’t like those Italian courts in Italy. We are the light of the world,’” Chairez said.

He argued that the United States says its courts are the best and that the system needs to reflect that.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Mary Kay Holthus rebuffed Chairez’s argument that the court needed to use this case to back the American judicial system’s supposed bragging rights as the best legal system in the world.

“The Saudi government isn’t on trial,” Holthus said. “He wants to make this political. It’s not.”

Holthus said the only thing that has changed since bail was set is that the prosecution’s case has grown stronger since there is now DNA evidence.

A swab of the alleged victim’s left ear revealed DNA from Alotaibi, and there is video evidence of the defendant appearing to kiss or lick the victim’s ear, Holthus said.

His DNA was also found on the boy’s underwear, she said.

Miley kept the bail at $1.7 million, noting that the stakes were high and that Alotaibi had no ties to the community.

She said that since the Saudi government has indicated that they will pay whatever bail she sets, Alotaibi will need to be put under house arrest in Nevada if he does make bail.

During the hearing, Chairez questioned whether his client was being treated with the presumption of innocence, noting that the jail had refused to deliver Arabic-English dictionaries he had ordered for his client.

Holthus said Alotaibi’s command of the English language was sophisticated and that there is no language barrier. During the hearing, an Arabic interpreter translated the court proceedings for Alotaibi, although Holthus asserted that he could understand everything she was saying in court despite his use of a translator.

Alotaibi’s understanding of the English language is likely to come up at the case’s next hearing Aug. 1, where the court will address the defense’s motion to suppress statements Alotaibi made to police after he was taken into custody.

Alotaibi was drunk at the time and without an interpreter, according to the defense’s motion.

At that hearing, the court also will put a deal from the prosecution on the record.

Chairez indicated in court that Alotaibi did not plan to take the deal.

Holthus refused to say what the deal was and was heard outside the courtroom saying she didn’t understand why Alotaibi didn’t just take the “reasonable deal” he was offered.

A trial date has been set for Oct. 7 at 1 p.m.

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