After coming home from work one day in late 2012, Anna had a fleeting moment of suspicion based on a single observation: Her teenage daughter was taking a shower.
"She was stinking," Anna's live-in boyfriend, Jorge Juarez-Lopez, explained when Anna inquired that day.
Strange, Anna thought to herself. The hot water in the house had been cut off. Why would she be in the shower?
When Anna met Juarez-Lopez in Mexico, he smothered her with attention. To Anna, he was like a prince compared to her former husband of eight years. In 2008, Anna, Juarez-Lopez and Anna's two daughters moved to Sacramento, Calif. In 2012, they moved to Durham, where work prospects seemed promising. Juarez-Lopez pledged to take care of them.
For several years Juarez-Lopez had been like a father to Anna's daughters, 13 and 11. [The INDY is not using their names to protect their privacy.] He read them bedtime stories before tucking them in. He made them breakfast and walked them to the bus after Anna left at 5 a.m. for her cleaning job at Macy's. Though he didn't speak English, he found a job at a restaurant, a factory and a construction company.
Things went well enough. But two years ago, when Juarez-Lopez told Anna that her daughter was in the shower, Anna raised the question of the cold water.
Juarez-Lopez dismissed her. "Stop getting ideas in your head."
Anna's instincts were right. This past Monday inside the Durham County Courthouse, she was embracing her younger daughter outside a courtroom. A caseworker was hugging the older girl. Anna and both daughters were in tears. In a few minutes, Juarez-Lopez would plead guilty to rape and other sex offenses against the two girls.
In 2012, Juarez-Lopez had offered to drive the girls across the country from Sacramento after Anna had secured work in Durham. At a hotel during the trip, Juarez-Lopez had sex with the 11-year-old while the teenager was in the shower.
In Durham, Juarez-Lopez continued his abuse. He'd beckon the girls to a mattress downstairs after Anna left for work. Afterward, the girls sometimes used the bathroom to wash up. "Did you like it?" Juarez-Lopez asked once.
His crimes grew more brazen. He began assaulting the girls while Anna was in the house. Standing in an upstairs hallway, he made the teenager perform oral sex on him while he peered down the stairs to watch out for Anna. "I have a surprise for you," he once instructed the 11-year-old: "Don't tell your mother."
In early 2013, the teenager confided in a friend about the abuse. The friend told her mother, who then told Anna. At that moment, Anna would later say, "I felt my world collapse."
While Juarez-Lopez was at work that day, Anna confronted her daughters. At first they denied what had happened. Then the teen, staring at the ground, told her mother it was true.
"Why didn't you tell me?" exclaimed Anna.
"Because you loved him so much, and I didn't want to hurt you," she said.
When Anna said she would contact the police, her younger daughter asked how they would pay the bills at the end of the month.
Later that day, when the Durham police questioned Juarez-Lopez, he confessed. "Whatever they said I did—I did it," he said. "I belong to the government now."
Inside the courtroom this week, Anna, 38, trudged up to the witness stand. She wore a black sweater, gray jeans and a defeated expression. The girls waited outside. It had been a year since Anna had seen Juarez-Lopez, who sat at the defense table in an orange jumpsuit. The 39-year-old had a trim mustache and military-style buzz cut. Throughout the proceedings he frequently glanced at Anna.
From jail he had written letters to Anna and the girls. My love, you must be hating me, he told Anna. But you have to weigh how we have lived, everything I've given you.
After Anna took the witness stand, Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Kenney, through a translator, asked how Juarez-Lopez's actions had affected her. Anna paused, then whispered: "Estoy muerta." In English, "I am dead."
Given the opportunity to speak, Juarez-Lopez said, "The only thing I want to say is that I'm sorry."
Judge Robert Johnson imposed two consecutive prison terms totaling 36 to 53 years. "By the time you serve the sentences I gave you you're going to be an old man," said the judge. As he listened to the ruling, Juarez-Lopez craned his neck sideways to cast another glance at Anna. But she was already gone.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Suspicions confirmed"