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Judge closes courtroom as 12-year-old alleged rape victim testifies

DEE GOODIN • Jan 9, 2007 at 11:18 AM

JOHNSON CITY - A Washington County Sessions Court judge cleared the courtroom Tuesday in consideration for a 12-year-old girl who was testifying in the case of a man charged with raping her.

Daniel M. Ortiz, 35, Locust Street, was arrested Thursday and charged with the rape of a child.

Tuesday afternoon, Judge Jim Nidiffer cleared the courtroom in spite of the protests of Gene Scott, Ortiz's attorney.

"I'm not trying to fight with your honor," Scott said. "But it's an open proceeding," he said, adding that Ortiz's family had a right to be in the courtroom.

But Nidiffer was adamant.

"She's 12 years old and she is not comfortable," the judge said.

The girl testified her mother was out of the country with her grandmother when the November incident occurred. When her mother returned, the girl's brother first informed her of what had happened. The girl then confirmed the incident to her mother, who notified police.

Asked why she had not told anyone, the girl began to cry and said, "I was scared."

According to his arrest warrant, Ortiz reportedly told the girl that if she told anyone, he would kill her when he got out of jail.

After Nidiffer bound Ortiz over to the next session of the Washington County grand jury, Scott asked Nidiffer to reduce his client's bond, originally set at $100,000. Assistant District Attorney General Fred Lance quickly stood up.

"The state of Tennessee vehemently objects," Lance said. "This is a serious charge and he may very well face additional counts.

"We believe he is flight risk to Mexico, where he has been spending money on (remodeling) a house he owns."

Scott asked Ortiz whether he was legally in the United States. Ortiz said he was "legal but not a citizen."

His wife, who testified next, said Ortiz, whom she met in 1997, was classified as a "permanent resident." She said she did not believe her husband would flee to Mexico. "He'd stay here because he loves his kids."

Saying that bond is not "to be used as punishment," Nidiffer set a $100,000 property bond and a $25,000 cash bond for Ortiz.

"But he is not to contact this girl in any way, indirectly as well as directly. He's not to be around this little girl, period."

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