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Lawyer for MMA fighter in rape case: Woman initiated sex

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The attorney for an MMA fighter accused of raping a woman during a 2014 night of heavy drinking argued in opening statements Tuesday that the woman initiated sex in an attempt to make her boyfriend jealous.

Stephen Cervantes

Stephen Cervantes

Stephen Cervantes, 22, and the woman’s then-boyfriend, Paul Sandoval, 21, are both on trial this week before 2nd Judicial District Court Judge David Williams on charges including criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping and conspiracy.

Cervantes is also facing felony charges in a separate case in which he is accused of raping and sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl last year, according to court documents.

Prosecutor Erin Anderson told jurors that the trio had been drinking heavily together on May 22, 2014, when the woman, then 19, woke up with Cervantes on top of her. Sandoval, the man whom she’d been dating on and off since middle school, was sitting feet away. She screamed and fought Cervantes off of her, Anderson said.

“She’s not a match for the trained MMA fighter,” she said.

Cervantes is a professional bantamweight fighter out of Luttrell’s MMA and Fitness in Albuquerque with a 6-1 career record.

Anderson said the men refused to let the woman leave the room and the next thing she remembered was waking up in a car as it drove to the top of Pajarito Mesa. The woman told police that the men were “talking about needing to kill her,” according to a criminal complaint.

At some point, she escaped the vehicle, ran from Cervantes and Sandoval and flagged down a driver who agreed to take her to her father’s home, Anderson said.

“You don’t run from consensual sex,” she said.

But Cervantes’ attorney, Robert Gorence told a very different story. He described the woman, who had recently moved with her mother to Tennessee, as “highly depressed” and said she believed that Sandoval, still in Albuquerque, was seeing other women. He also said she’d taken oxycodone before drinking Jaegermeister.

Sandoval’s attorney, Robert Hedrick, said that Sandoval and the woman were having sex when she invited Cervantes to join in, but then “became upset.”

Gorence offered another explanation. He said the woman, who was in New Mexico visiting family that week, seduced Cervantes hoping that Sandoval would see. He said she might have started screaming so that Sandoval would notice what was happening or because she realized she’d made a mistake.

“Maybe she just had a moral moment,” he said, adding that Cervantes stopped having sex with the woman “the minute she says stop.”

He suggested that Cervantes and Sandoval prevented the intoxicated woman from leaving the home for her own safety and agreed to take her to her father’s home near Pajarito Mesa.

Hedrick said the group was simply lost when they ended up atop the mesa, dismissing the claim that they were on “an insane murderous route.”

“Nobody’s trying to kidnap her,” Hedrick said. “They’re trying to take her home.”

Gorence said the case would be straightforward and that jurors would have no trouble returning a not guilty verdict.

“It’s gonna be anything but overwhelming,” he said.