SAN DIEGO — A Marine accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl was in court for the first time Thursday for a preliminary hearing at Camp Pendleton.
The Marine, who has been identified as Private First Class Avery Rosario, claims the teen lied about her age several times, and claims he believed she was 21 years old during their alleged consensual sex in the barracks at Camp Pendleton in June.
Rosario was brought into the courtroom handcuffed. No cameras or recording devices were allowed inside the courtroom.
The government and defense both had a chance to make closing arguments. The government opted to submit theirs in writing, while the defense shared a PowerPoint presentation with facts of the case, and also submitted arguments in writing. The presentation was the only time information was shared, which detailed Rosario’s side of the story.
According to the defense’s arguments, Rosario had a Tinder profile, where he met the girl, who went by a fictitious name and identified herself in her Tinder bio as 21 years old. Her Tinder bio also read, “yeahhh ik I look young but hey when I’m 30 I’ll look like I’m in my 20s.”
The defense claimed the girl reached out to Rosario on Tinder first, initiated the conversation, and then initiated them messaging on Instagram on June 26. This would have been more than two weeks since the girl reportedly went missing. On June 26, the defense claims the girl suggested she stay at Rosario’s house, but he said he lived in the barracks. Allegedly, she suggested they get a hotel. Rosario planned to pick her up as another Marine, LCPL Rios, reportedly drove. He brought her back to the barracks, where the defense said they had consensual sex.
The defense claimed Rosario asked the girl her age multiple times, where she replied, “21.”
In interviews with Rosario’s roommate, he claimed he heard the girl moaning, did not hear the woman in distress, did not hear “no” or any “tussling.”
The defense said, according to the roommate, the girl was in the barracks, with the TV on, under the covers, snoring the following morning. Rosario left to go to duty, and his roommate kicked the girl out of the room, because he claimed he didn’t want to get in trouble since Rosario did not sign the girl in, according to the defense.
The defense claims she used someone’s phone, logged into Instagram, and messaged Rosario on the app to inform him she left his room.
During snippets of interviews, shown in writing during the court hearing, the defense claimed Rosario had a reasonable belief that the girl was 21 years old, and everyone who had come into contact with the girl at the barracks believed she was an adult.
When the girl was found at the barracks by law enforcement, she gave a fictitious name and date of birth, and law enforcement could not identify her.
During an interview, she told authorities Rosario believed she was an adult, and either 21 or 22 years old.
The defense claims the teen lied several times and her statements contradicted each other. According to the defense, at one point she claimed that she was being sex-trafficked, and that a man named “Hector” had all of her social media accounts and set up the entire situation. She claimed a man was there when Rosario picked her up, but that was disputed by the Marine who was driving the vehicle. The girl claimed to authorities that she did not want to return to her parents due to them using her for sex trafficking.
The judge who appeared via Zoom attended MCRD in San Diego in 1999 and has served on “a dozen or so” Article 32 cases, such as this one. The defense counsel confirmed the judge did not have prior knowledge about facts of the case prior to the charge sheet.
The preliminary hearing for the case, U.S. v. Rosario, lasted about two hours. Rosario is charged under two Uniform Code Military Justice (UCMJ) articles, for three specifications of sexual assault of a person between the ages of 12 and 16 years old, plus two specifications for breaching restrictions.
Before the defense’s closing argument presentation could begin, the victim’s legal counsel objected to any photos of the minor being shown in court. The defense argued the photos are on a public social media page. Ultimately, the judge decided to redact information that could identify the minor.
Along with the defense and prosecution, a captain was present as the victim’s Legal Counsel. The victim, nor anyone from her family, was present in the courtroom. Neither sides had witnesses testifying during the hearing. The government entered 18 exhibits into evidence, while the defense entered one. The government’s exhibits included the charge sheet, photos of the girl, her Tinder profile, text messages between the teen and Rosario, plus several interviews of the teen, Rosario, his roommate and others. Rosario was read his rights and did not make a statement in the courtroom.
Based on the charges, Rosario was under restriction that he was not allowed to be off the base of Camp Pendleton, and he was not allowed as a passenger in a non-government vehicle.
Military legal expert Former U.S. Marine Corps officer and attorney based in Carlsbad, Lt. Col. Gary S. Barthel, was in the courtroom Thursday. He said the three charges for sexual assault Rosario faces carry a maximum time of 30 years, but said he could see the charges being consolidated.
Barthel said there is no official deadline for when military court officials will give their recommendation on whether or not this should go to a court-martial and eventually be left up to a military jury.