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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Decades-old child rape case goes to trial

Decades-old child rape case goes to trial

A 39-year-old woman took a couple of breaths before entering a Thibodaux courtroom where she faced the man she’s accused of raping her more than 30 years ago.

Her voice was low, and she stared downward while testifying. When a prosecutor asked about a change in the relationship between her and the defendant, she started crying, wiping her eyes with a tissue and burying her face in her hands at times.

She said Larose resident Warren Danos, now 83, began molesting her when she was 7 and also had oral and vaginal sex with her. When she’d tell him no, she testified, he would say the behavior was normal and that no one would believe her if she told what happened.

The alleged victim said Danos, who was related to her by marriage, also threatened to kill some of her other relatives if she told anyone about what happened.

In December 2014, at age 37, she went to the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office. Danos was charged in July 2015 with aggravated rape.

Louisiana law has no statute of limitations for prosecution of crimes that carry a life sentence, such as aggravated rape.

State District Judge John LeBlanc is presiding over Danos’ trial. First Assistant District Attorney Kristine Russell and Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet are prosecuting the case, and Thibodaux attorneys Matthew Ory and Beau Brooks are representing Danos.

Christine Cortopassi, who was a juvenile detective for the Sheriff’s Office, was the first witness to testify. She said sometimes people feel more comfortable reporting crimes as adults than as children and that she’s handled about 10 delayed reporting cases.

The alleged victim, who was the next to testify, said she finally reported Danos because he has enjoyed his freedom but she hasn’t.

“I’ve been in my prison, in my own house, for 30 years,” she said. “And I can’t do it anymore.”

Ory pointed out several inconsistencies between her police statements and testimony, including how often she would visit Danos’ home, how many times he allegedly raped her and which sex acts allegedly occurred on what occasions. He also pointed out that other people in the home had never witnessed Danos abusing the alleged victim.

The defense attorney noted that she was more composed talking to him than she was with Russell and was able to speak without crying.

Although the charges against Danos involve one alleged victim, two other women who said they had been related to Danos by marriage testified against him. The statute of limitations has expired for their allegations.

A 52-year-old woman testified that Danos molested her when she was 5 or 6 years old, and a 60-year-old woman testified that he molested her when she was between 10 and 12. Both said they didn’t initially report the alleged crimes out of shame and fear.

“It’s not something that you talk about, that you brag about, that you write home about,” the 52-year-old said. “It’s very shameful.”

Ory said the woman had a track record of accusing Danos of heinous crimes: molesting multiple people, impregnating one, killing her mother and causing a family member to commit suicide.

None of that could be proven, Ory said.

“You expect us to believe the person who’s slinging allegations left and right?” he asked her.

She responded that she believed what she said to be true.

The 60-year-old also alleged in a police statement that Danos had molested several people. But like the 52-year-old, Ory said, she had no proof.

Danos was the only witness for the defense. He said he was never alone with the alleged victim and firmly denied sexually touching or raping her or anyone else who testified or was mentioned in court.

The defendant said he believes the 52-year-old woman testified as she did because she wanted money from a succession.

When Soignet asked him what he did to the alleged victim and the other woman who testified to lead to such accusations, he said he didn’t know.

Attorneys were expected to present closing arguments Friday morning, and the jury could reach a verdict that day. However, no decision was made as of Gazette press time Friday morning.

-- Staff Writer Bridget Mire can be reached at 448-7639 or Follow her on Twitter@bridget_mire.