HOUSTON (CN) — A prosecution witness in a federal stalking trial testified Tuesday that a Houston man became so angry that his girlfriend had an abortion he created a public Facebook page where he wrote, for the fetus: “I think it’s important that everyone sees what a brutal mom I have.”
Heriberto Latigo, 44, faces up to five years in federal prison on the May 2015 cyberstalking charges returned by a grand jury.
According to statistics updated in April by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in nine men are victims of sexual violence or stalking by their sexual partners. Yet federal prosecutors rarely charge people with stalking.
Latigo’s charges arose from his use of the internet, which the indictment calls an “electronic system of interstate commerce,” which he allegedly used to send threatening messages to his former girlfriend, who Courthouse News is identifying by the pseudonym Jane Doe.
Latigo has been in federal custody since FBI agents arrested him at his suburban Houston home on June 1, 2015.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt denied him bond in September 2015, agreeing with a federal magistrate judge that public safety and risk of flight justified keeping him behind bars.
During opening arguments Tuesday, federal prosecutor Steven Schammel said that from March 2014 until April 2015 Latigo tried to control Doe by emailing nude photos of her from an account he set up to give the impression she was emailing herself, and threatening to share them with her family and friends.
Citing the federal stalking statute, Schammel repeatedly told jurors that Latigo used the internet to “shame, harass and intimidate” Doe.
“What a person does with another person in private is one thing, but when these images are used as a tool on the internet it’s a very different thing,” Schammel said.
Latigo, who is representing himself, has the looks of a telenovela star, with broad shoulders and thick black hair. He wore a tailored black suit and yellow tie to his first day of trial Tuesday. His voice wavered during his opening statement as he told how he and Doe began dating while working together at Eni Trading & Shipping, a Houston-based crude oil and natural gas trader, where Doe was an accountant and he was a crude oil trading manager.
“When Ms. Doe and I started dating, I thought we were in love. I was in love. I gave her access to everything: my credit cards, my passwords, my Social Security number, Texas driver’s license. … She had access to all my bank accounts,” Latigo said.
He said prosecutors had twice offered him a plea deal: that they would recommend he be sentenced to time served if he pleaded guilty, but he turned them down.
“I’m not an attorney so I may fumble up a little bit and I apologize for that. … I’m innocent,” Latigo told the jury of seven men and six women.
“Over 10,000 communications between Ms. Doe and I and there’s not a single threat that comes from me,” he said.
Latigo said he and Doe had a love-hate relationship plagued by her frequent and intense bouts of jealousy.
“I’m going to provide you with evidence that Ms. Doe was jealous of my own sons. This is a mother of a 4-year-old daughter, and she was jealous of my 3- and-5-year-old sons. She would hit me. She would verbally abuse me in the office to isolate me from my co-workers. She bit my hand, creating nerve damage in the middle of a Chuck E. Cheese [restaurant] in front of my sons. She stabbed me with a knife, and she vandalized vehicles,” Latigo said.
He said Doe is motivated by greed. That’s clear, he said, from the defamation lawsuits she filed against him in Harris County Court in November 2014 and April 2015, each seeking $2 million in damages.
The first lawsuit ended with a nonsuit order, and the second was dismissed with an agreement between Latigo and Doe, court records show.
Latigo smiled throughout the proceedings Tuesday as prosecutors called their first three witnesses to the stand, employees of Yahoo, Google and Comcast, who testified about email and internet records the government says will prove that Latigo created a SexyCatDoe@gmail.com account, from which he emailed threats to Doe’s personal email account.
The tech employees’ number- and date-heavy testimony about IP addresses and email log-ins, through which investigators can tie computers and smart phones to specific locations on a given date, was a drab introduction to the scandalous testimony of the prosecution’s next witness, Kate Birenbaum.
Birenbaum said she was working in the law firm Seyfarth Shaw’s Houston office, as an outside counsel for Eni Trading & Shipping, when an Eni human resources manager called her about a situation at the office.
The HR manager said an Eni Trading contract worker was sitting at her desk crying because there was a relationship going on between two coworkers, and the woman in the relationship, Jane Doe, was so distraught she had tried to kill herself.
Birenbaum said that after Eni suspend Latigo, she interviewed him and Doe.
Federal prosecutor Sherri Zack stood next to Birenbaum at the witness stand, flipping through the pages of Birenbaum’s report about the investigation.
“Can you summarize what she told you about her relationship with Mr. Latigo?” Zack asked Birenbaum.
“She said Mr. Latigo was a peer at work, and they had entered into a relationship,” Birenbaum said, pulling her zebra-patterned sweatshirt tight in the chilly courtroom. “And at some point he had gotten controlling and he got upset with her because she had lunch with someone he didn’t like. So in response he set up a website, a Facebook account, and he sent her a link and the idea was that he was threatening her.
“He had posted nude pictures of her on this Facebook account. And he said, ‘If you don’t give me a password to your email account, or if you don’t let me in your house, I’m going to make this public, and share this Facebook page and all these naked pictures with your family and friends.’”
Birenbaum said Doe showed her several emails that Latigo allegedly had sent from SexyCatDoe@gmail.com in 2014.
“What is the subject line there?” Zack asked.
“Have you seen my new big tits?” Birenbaum said as nonchalantly as if she were reading a grocery list.
“What is the content of the email?” Zack asked.
“I really love showing them off. Let me post some of my sexy selfies. I can be so dirty at times. I have some pics of me kissing girls too. Mmm,” Birenbaum read.
Zack asked: “It appears that SexyCatDoe@gmail.com sent that to Jane Doe’s legitimate account. Correct?”
“Did you think it was odd that Ms. Doe would be sending herself pictures of her own breasts?” Zack asked.
“I didn’t think the emails were coming from Ms. Doe,” Birenbaum replied.
Birenbaum said Doe also showed her an email containing a screenshot of a Facebook page Latigo had set up under the name “Aborted Magdalena.”
On the Facebook post, Latigo assumed the voice of the aborted baby, Birenbaum said.
“From Magdalena aborted it says: ‘Thank you everyone for supporting me. I want to live. I think it’s important that everyone see what a brutal mom I have. Will be posting soon a video of her making her first attempt at aborting me because she doesn’t know who the father is,’” Birenbaum said.
Birenbaum said that when she interviewed Latigo he seemed defensive, which she found understandable, as he’d just been suspended from his job.
“At some point during the interview I said: ‘Let me ask you a question. If someone sends naked pictures to you and doesn’t want you to send them to anybody else, but you go ahead and send them to other folks, would you consider that harassment?’ And he paused for a minute and then he said, ‘I think it depends on the circumstances,’” Birenbaum testified.
She said she asked Latigo to delete the photos, but he indicated they were his and he was not going to delete them.
She recommended that the company fire Latigo immediately.
On cross-examination, Latigo told Birenbaum, who crossed her arms and peered at him with a quizzical look, that there was nothing in the SexyCatDoe emails to prove he sent them.
Birenbaum conceded that, but said the emails point to Latigo because at the same time Doe was getting emails from the SexyCatDoe account, Latigo was emailing her from his own account.
“So what I would say is: Did I see your name on any of the SexyCatDoe emails? No. But what I did find is when you lay out the emails in date order, what you find is that there’s a harmony between what SexyCatDoe is talking about and what Mr. Latigo is talking about,” Birenbaum said.
The trial is to continue through Thursday and possibly into next week.