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On Oct. 6, 2011, she called the police because Pragana took her car keys during a fight, according to Salt Lake County District Attorney Gill. When officers arrived, Pragana told them that when he was angry he thought it wiser to drive away. Alexander says Pragana took her children to the den after the officers arrived. “You better make them believe,” were his parting words, she says. The police told her they could see she was scared and that they would return, she says, but they did not come back. UPD filed it as no more than a “domestic argument,” Gill says.
In mid-October, Alexander and her children moved out of the Kearns house to an apartment. Once she had a safe place for her family to live, she felt ready to turn in Pragana. Why it took her so long to turn him in, she says, reflects the highly complex, frightening situation she was in with her partner. “I can see how they look at me as a co-conspirator, but, once again, this is my life and my children’s life on the line. So, no, I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to die.”
She also says there were cultural issues at play. “Our way of life, we don’t get cops involved in things,” she says. “People are afraid to call the police; that’s simply how it is.”
“Why Didn’t You Leave?”
On Oct. 26, 2011, Alexander called 911 and told the dispatcher she had information “about All-A-Dollar robberies, Family Dollar robberies and gas station robberies,” according to a police report, and left her cell-phone number and her first name. Detectives identified Alexander through her cell-phone number and found the Oct. 6 domestic-violence incident in their records. UPD and the District Attorney’s Office drew up a search warrant for Pragana to do a DNA swab to check against the DNA profile they’d secured from several victims.
After Unified Police Department detective Isaac Pace called Alexander several times and left messages, on Oct. 30, 2011, she called him back in the late evening and they spoke for an hour.
They agreed to meet on Halloween, but that day, she says, she couldn’t get away from Pragana. She “did not honor this appointment,” Pace wrote in a report. UPD was concerned their lead on the serial rapist had disappeared. Pace texted and called, but a scared Alexander says she didn’t pick up because Pragana was sitting next to her. The next day, Pace arrested her for an outstanding traffic-related warrant, handcuffed her and took her to the station.
“I’ve got to get [Pragana] in custody right now,” Pace told her. “I need your help to do that. We’re not sleeping till I get him in handcuffs.”
By then, UPD had had officers watching for Pragana at his house. The information Alexander had given them, Gill says, meant the officers now had probable cause to arrest him.
On Nov. 1, UPD, Taylorsville detectives and U.S. marshals arrested Pragana at a North Salt Lake warehouse where he was working. He fought and tried to flee officers, who Tasered him before they got the cuffs on him. Pragana was charged with a misdemeanor for resisting arrest.
Alexander was released by the police and returned to her home, only for her and her children to be evicted, she says, after employees at the apartment complex recognized Pragana from the TV-news coverage of his arrest.
UPD’s victim advocate Nubia Pena found Alexander and her children shelter at the YWCA, a high-security complex for domestic violence survivors and their dependents.
Several days later, Pace and Pena gave her $500. Alexander felt they were paying her off to go away. Miller feels differently. UPD “realized the situation she was in, placed her in shelter care and also gave her money to live off of until she got on her feet.”
On Nov. 4, 2011, Alexander says, she gave the authorities seven pages chronicling Pragana’s abuse of her, which included disturbing details of two sexual assaults. No charges, however, were brought against Pragana based on Alexander’s complaints.
District Attorney Gill says that the story she was telling attorneys and different agencies “continued to evolve in complexity and the seriousness of offenses.” That complexity, he says, “did not readily or easily render [itself] to be subject to cross-examination” on the stand, further undermining any possibility that Pragana might be charged based on her complaints against him.
“The perception we throw every possible charge we can at him is not accurate,” UPD’s Hutson says. “DV incidents, be it right or wrong, are not nearly as notorious as abductions, kidnappings or people being robbed at gunpoint.” In addition, “historical DV reports are extremely difficult to prove. They come down to ‘he said, she said.’ ”
Michaela Andruzzi, formerly a senior sex-crimes prosecutor at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, now works as a defense attorney. She says that stranger rape, while a rarity, arouses public emotion, so “there’s a premium put on it” when it comes to investigating and prosecuting such cases. However, intimate-partner sexual violence does not come with the same cachet. Such claims by victims, while far more prevalent, are also often viewed more suspiciously by detectives. “They can’t blame a victim when it’s a stranger rape, but when it’s a DV rape, they can look at you and say, ‘Why didn’t you leave?’ ” Andruzzi says. Alexander says a detective asked her that exact question.
Andruzzi argues that a victim of domestic violence “in a sense is almost like a child. You’re going to expect a child to turn a parent in? You feel almost powerless.” Then, to suffer, as Alexander did from Pragana, sexual assault “is the worst thing that can ever happen to you,” the ex-prosecutor says. “It’s like surviving a murder. You go on with the rest of your life, but nothing is the same.”
In March 2012, Alexander met with prosecutors at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office to see what they were going to do about Pragana’s assaults upon her. The short answer was nothing. “They kept saying I was an accessory, I was made comfortable by these crimes. What about me makes you think I don’t deserve justice?” she says now. “All it would have taken was some black ink on white paper. At least he would have admitted what he was doing to me was wrong.”
“Be a Good Girl, Or I’ll Shoot You”
On March 9, 2012, as part of a plea deal that cut his charges almost by half, Pragana pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of aggravated burglary, four counts of aggravated kidnapping, an attempted aggravated kidnapping and two counts of aggravated sexual assault. The court dismissed 22 other counts, although Pragana would have to pay restitution on all 39 counts he was charged with.
In late May 2012, prosecutor Matthew Janzen filed a motion seeking a 35-year sentence for Pragana. He would be 58 when he got out, at which point he would be deported to Brazil. Janzen wrote that “there are now 19 lives permanently affected by [Pragana’s] criminal actions,” and then listed them by initials. In an e-mail included in the court file, 22 victims were listed by name. Neither list contains Alexander’s name.
Pragana’s attorney, Michael Peterson, asked 3rd District Court Judge Robin Reese not to accept a letter Alexander submitted to the court, since she was not listed as a victim, “and what she’s talking about is not any of the criminal activity he pleaded to.” Peterson questioned her “motivations and agendas,” given “what was going on with my client and Ms. Alexander at the time these crimes were occurring.” If Peterson fought that hard not to let Alexander’s letter in, Gill asks, how much harder might he have fought to impeach Alexander as a witness?
Pragana came before Judge Reese for sentencing on June 11, 2012. Prosecutor Janzen cited a “chilling” comment by Pragana in his pre-sentencing evaluation. His crimes, Pragana told a prison official, “started off to help my family and neighbor, then overpowering people and having a handgun made me excited to do the sexual assault.” Janzen questioned whether Pragana should ever be a candidate for parole.
Janzen described one incident where Pragana sexually assaulted a robbery victim so violently that he caused her to vomit. “Do it right, be a good girl, or I’ll shoot you,” he told her. In her statement of assaults submitted to the authorities the previous November, Alexander had accused Pragana of doing the same thing to her.
While Judge Reese accepted Alexander’s letter into the court record, his comments did not bring the validation she might have hoped for. “She may have had some complicity in the crimes, and by writing this letter she is trying to excuse herself of her behavior,” Reese said, shortly before sentencing Pragana to 35 years.
“I never had a chance to tell my side of the story,” Alexander says. “I was never able to say anything on my behalf.” While some in law enforcement see a contradiction between her wanting to be protected as a domestic-violence victim and wanting to confront Pragana in court, she disagrees. She wanted him “to face what he did to those poor women.”
The Healing Process
In the months since Pragana began his prison sentence in Gunnison, in central Utah, Alexander took courses in domestic-violence and sexual-assault crisis counseling and started a nonprofit called The Mended Wounds Association, which she hopes will assist domestic-violence victims hold offenders accountable.
In the summer, Alexander gave birth to Pragana’s son, Thristian. “What’s so heart-aching for me is to have to see my son’s beautiful face and know, one day, I’ll have to answer some really serious questions. I’ll have to explain not only to my children but [Pragana’s] child why’s he not here.”
Miller, for one, hopes Alexander can heal. “I do want her to be who she’s destined to be. But it’s got to be on her terms. It’s a process she has to go through, and it looks different for every victim.”
One detective familiar with the case argues that Alexander’s bravery should be commended. UPD Detective Tim Duran, who worked Pragana’s ATM robberies in Taylorsville, says regardless of her motivations, many people in the valley owe Alexander a debt. “I’m thankful she came forward. I’m sure all the other victims are glad too.” While his agency had DNA on Pragana and would have gotten him eventually, he believes, “his violence was escalating, he was becoming bold. She sped up the process. She probably saved some other people being attacked or robbed. I’m glad he’s off the streets.”
Ultimately, Alexander wants the police department and the District Attorney’s Office to acknowledge “how this case was handled from the beginning was inappropriate, wrong.” Her concern is for those in the future who bring allegations of domestic violence and rape to the criminal-justice system. “I’m worried how people after me are going to be treated. Are they going to be judged, or are they going to be helped?”