Contact: Ken Daley, Public Information
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office on Friday (Sept. 20) secured the conviction of a New Orleans man who raped a juvenile relative in her mother’s home in 2017.
An Orleans Parish jury deliberated three hours before finding Regan Preatto guilty of third-degree rape and of aggravated crime against nature. Preatto faces a state prison term of up to 25 years on the first count and up to five years on the second when he is sentenced Sept. 27 by Criminal District Judge Paul Bonin.
Those penalties could be enhanced if Preatto’s history as a repeat felony offender is proven by the state at his sentencing hearing. Bonin ordered the defendant held without bond until that hearing.
The victim was 17 years old when she reported being raped by Preatto in the early morning hours of Feb. 20, 2017. She initially told her mother, who was returning from out of town, of the sexual assault. After arriving home, the victim’s mother then called police.
The victim additionally gave her account of being raped to both a SANE nurse (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) and to a New Orleans police sex crimes detective in an audio recorded interview. The girl also underwent a sexual assault kit exam, which included being swabbed for DNA evidence left by her assailant.
A DNA expert testified during the trial that samples recovered from the victim’s genitals and cervix were found in June 2017 to match a sample taken from Preatto.
Nevertheless, prosecutors also had to present evidence indicating relatives appeared to have second thoughts about sending a family member to prison. Jurors heard jailhouse phone calls between Preatto and family members recorded in the first days after his arrest on March 6, 2017, that suggested an effort to persuade the victim to recant.
In both a March 22 meeting with Preatto’s public defenders and in an April 28 meeting with a case-screening prosecutor, the victim attempted to withdraw her accusation. She said she had made up the story because the defendant had refused to give her a ride to see a boyfriend in Baton Rouge.
After the Louisiana State Police crime lab confirmed a DNA match between Preatto and the rape kit in June 2017, the victim returned to speak with Preatto’s attorneys in October. This time, she said she had found a condom used by Preatto and deliberately applied the semen to her vagina in an attempt to falsely implicate him.
Meanwhile, the victim broke off contact with prosecutors and could not be located before the trial began. Judge Bonin ruled that the state could introduce as evidence the victim’s initial recorded statement to police, under the legal premise of forfeiture by wrongdoing, agreeing that family pressure had caused her unavailability for trial. After the state rested its case, the victim suddenly reappeared in court Thursday to help Preatto’s defense attorneys present their case.
Jurors ultimately found Preatto, who had been charged with second-degree rape, guilty of the lesser crime of third-degree rape.
“This case sadly illustrates the difficulty the state can encounter when attempting to take a dangerous sexual predator off the streets before he victimizes others,” Cannizzaro said. “Despite the terrible violation of this young girl, it became more important for family members to keep this offender out of prison than to support the girl he raped.
“Under extreme pressure from her family, this young girl essentially was violated again. She was forced to deny the truth of what happened to her, hide from prosecutors working to help her, and then resurfaced to tell a fantastical story aimed at absolving her attacker.
“I commend the judge and this jury for seeing the truth behind this shameful facade, and applaud our prosecutors for not relenting in their pursuit of justice for this young victim despite these shameful obstacles.”
Assistant District Attorneys Sarah Dawkins and Hilary Khoury prosecuted the case.
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