Jury acquits man of raping his estranged wife

Staff report


A jury of seven men and five women acquitted a 39-year-old Howell, N.J., man of two counts of raping his estranged wife in her Boardman home in 2008.

The jury acquitted Oscar Ponce after three hours of deliberations Monday at the end of a weeklong trial before Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Ponce was retried this month after a jury deadlocked on the rape counts after more than two days of deliberations in a December 2010 trial. Ponce was convicted, however, in the 2010 trial of a misdemeanor charge of menacing his wife.

Ponce remains free on bond until Judge Sweeney sentences him on the misdemeanor charge.

The defendant was accused of committing the crimes after coming to his estranged wife’s Beech Avenue home in Boardman in September 2008.

The woman told police she was communicating with a man on the Internet when Ponce became angry, hit and smothered her and forced her to have sex.

After the verdict, defense lawyer Jeffrey Limbian said he believed his client was acquitted of the rape charges because of inconsistencies in the accuser’s testimony and a lack of police investigation. “He should never have been charged,” Limbian said.

Dawn Cantalamessa, an assistant county prosecutor, said she did not know why the jury acquitted Ponce of the rape counts.

In the first trial, Natasha Frenchko, another assistant county prosecutor, told jurors Ponce’s wife met him as a teen and married him young. She said Ponce had been abusive and threatening toward his wife throughout the marriage, including when she separated from him and moved to Boardman.

But Limbian told the jurors the accuser is a calculating woman who persuaded her husband to sell their New Jersey home, buy a Boardman home, and put the remaining money into a mutual account before telling him she no longer wanted to be with him.

Limbian said Ponce caught his wife in a compromising position talking to another man via webcam on the Internet. He said the woman, after being struck by a door upon Ponce’s entrance into the bedroom, tried to have sex with Ponce while apologizing for her actions.

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