On the eve of his trial, a 51-year-old Southern Humboldt man pled guilty as charged last Wednesday to allegations that he beat and raped his wife last year.
Paul Lee Hermes stood in Humboldt superior court Wednesday morning and pled guilty to charges of spousal rape, causing corporal injury to a spouse, sexual penetration by a foreign object, false imprisonment and vandalism, and faces a stipulated term of eight years in state prison when sentenced Nov. 13. He will also receive two strikes under California's three strikes law, meaning he will automatically face a sentence of 25 years to life in prison if convicted of another violent felony in the future.
The charges stem from Jan. 15, 2012, when Hermes attacked his wife, Ashley Hermes, at their home in a rural area near Redway. While it is the policy of the Times-Standard not to identify victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, Ashley Hermes agreed to have her name printed, saying she hopes her coming forward inspires others in similar situations to do the same.
Ashley Hermes, who was preparing to testify during her husband's trial, said she felt a range of emotions upon hearing of Paul Hermes' guilty pleas Wednesday and is still in a state of shock.
”I feel a huge relief that justice was served but, honestly, it breaks my heart,” she said. “I'm not celebrating.
Prosecuting deputy district attorney Elan Firpo said Ashley Hermes has been a pillar of strength throughout the case, which was delayed numerous times as Paul Hermes switched defense attorneys, going through seven in all.
”She took back her power and really learned how to stand up for herself,” Firpo said. “She would not back down.”
On the morning of Jan. 15, 2012, Firpo said Paul and Ashley Hermes were engaged in an argument when he walked outside, slashed the tires on her SUV, came back in and raped her. But, Firpo said, when her husband went outside, a terrified Ashley Hermes hid her phone in her boot, inadvertently switching on her cell phone's audio recording device in the process.
The result, Firpo said, is a “horrifying” 54-minute recording of the attack and rape, during which Paul Hermes can be heard repeatedly threatening to kill his wife over her screams. Last Tuesday, Firpo said a hearing was held in court to lay the legal foundation for using the recording as evidence at trial. Ashley Hermes testified, telling a judge how she'd made the recording and what she experienced at her husband's hands.
”I think that's when Mr. Hermes looked at her and thought, ‘She's a powerful woman, not the woman I beat on last year,'” Firpo said, adding that the defendant, who had denied numerous plea offers in the case, walked into court Wednesday morning and pled guilty to every count charged against him.
Paul Hermes' attorney, Casey Russo, declined to comment for this story.
Firpo said she's pleased with the disposition, noting that it came at the end of October, domestic violence awareness month. Firpo said she hopes Ashley Hermes' show of strength will inspire others to come forward, noting that statistics show she is far from alone.
According to the California Department of Justice, Humboldt County law enforcement agencies last year received 9.4 calls for service for every 1,000 county residents, about three more than the state average. In 2012, local police responded to 907 domestic violence calls, 329 of them involving a weapon, according to the DOJ statistics. The majority of the calls, 523 of them, came from the county's unincorporated areas.
And those are just the cases that were reported. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, studies show about one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, but most incidents are never reported to police. The coalition estimates that about 1.3 million women fall victim to physical assault by an intimate partner each year.
For her part, Ashley Hermes said she is grateful her husband took responsibility for what he did to her and that she can now start the next chapter of her life without him.
”I don't hate him,” she said. “I just hate what he did to me.”
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.