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Man Who Claimed Right to Sex With Wife Is Sentenced

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Feliz man who said that his Catholic faith gave him the religious and constitutional right to have sex with his wife was sentenced Tuesday to a year in County Jail for attempted spousal rape and spousal abuse.

Ramiro Espinosa, 54, also was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert P. O’Neill to pay $500 to a battered women’s shelter.

“Mr. Espinosa has to understand certain things,” O’Neill said from the bench. “He doesn’t have the right to hit his wife. He didn’t have the right to hit his wife.”

Espinosa, a self-employed upholsterer, was convicted in July of the two felonies in connection with an Aug. 20, 1994, assault on his wife of 30 years, Imelda Espinosa.

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At the trial, Espinosa had testified that he believed that the Catholic marriage vows gave a husband or wife “a right over the body” of the other.

Church leaders said official Catholic doctrine teaches that a spouse should accede to a request from the other for sex, but only if that request is reasonable.

After the conviction, Espinosa asked for a new trial on the grounds that the California law making attempted spousal rape a crime is unconstitutionally vague.

Espinosa made no statement in court Tuesday and declined to comment afterward. Instead, he handed reporters a one-page typed statement reiterating the charge that the law is flawed because it does not explicitly set forth what is foreplay and what is a felony.

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The statement said Espinosa “should not have to go throughout his marriage guessing when he might be violating the law.”

O’Neill declared in court that there was no guesswork in the case. Proof of Espinosa’s guilt, he said, was “overwhelming.”

The evidence at the trial, the judge said, was that Espinosa used a butter knife to open the locked door to his wife’s room, then slapped her and ripped her clothes when she resisted.

“I know of nothing in the marital vows . . . that allows either spouse to inflict or attempt to inflict bodily harm on one another,” O’Neill said.

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Prosecutors had asked for a state prison term of 18 months. But O’Neill decided to impose jail time and probation, calling that an act of “grace and clemency” in light of Espinosa’s age and the fact that he has no criminal record.

Afterward, Deputy Dist. Atty. Diana Teran said she hoped that a year behind bars would “send a message to other batterers . . . that [spousal abuse] is a crime.”

But Tammy Bruce, the Los Angeles chapter president of the National Organization for Women, called O’Neill’s comments in court “lip service,” adding that it “did not reflect the fact that he took [domestic violence] seriously.”

Imelda Espinosa, 55, did not attend the sentencing. She said later by telephone that she did not want her 10 children to think she had been eager to see their father go to jail.

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She said she had not been pressing for jail time. A devout Catholic, Imelda Espinosa said she simply had been praying for herself, her husband and her family: “I hope everything will work out for the best. That’s the most important thing--that we may learn something from all that we have been through.”


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