Noemi Martinez was just 18 years old and still in high school when she found out she was pregnant.
The situation was particularly harrowing for Martinez, because she said she thought she was still a virgin.
It became even more difficult for Martinez after the man who sexually assaulted her sought — and was granted — parental rights to the baby girl he fathered.
Now, Martinez is an advocate for a Legislative Bill 358, which would strip parental rights to children conceived in a sexual assault of those convicted of second- and third-degree sexual assaults. A current Nebraska law does this for only individuals convicted of first-degree sexual assault.
According to court records, Martinez spoke with the teen pregnancy coordinator at Norfolk High School in April 2011 and stated that she was pregnant and the conception was not consensual. A report then was filed with the Norfolk Police Division.
In a subsequent interview with a detective, Martinez said she had gone to a co-worker’s apartment in February and had willingly engaged in some intimate contact with him. But Martinez said she told her co-worker, Timothy Melcher, that she did not want to have sex and wanted to remain a virgin until marriage.
Martinez told the detective that she has occasional blackouts in which she loses her memory about things that have happened. So when she woke up the next morning in Melcher’s bed without any clothing on, she asked Melcher if they had engaged in intercourse.
Melcher told Martinez she was still a virgin, she said, and, in a recorded phone call, Melcher admitted that Martinez had said no in reference to having sex.
When Melcher was interviewed by a police detective, he admitted that he lied to Martinez about having sex and that he did not have her consent. Melcher also told the detective that he purposely misled Martinez by telling her they did not have intercourse.
FOR MARTINEZ, the sexual assault was only the beginning of her troubles with Melcher.
Originally charged with first-degree sexual assault, Melcher eventually pleaded guilty to and was convicted of third-degree sexual assault. He was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 90 days in jail, 16 of which he was required to serve immediately with the rest waived after he successfully completed probation. He also was ordered to pay child support.
Martinez said she blames herself for the charges being reduced.
“That was kind of my fault. I went and I listened to all of the punishment he was going to get (on a first-degree sexual assault charge), and I felt like that was a lot. It was like 50 years. ... I felt like he deserved some punishment, but I didn’t want to ruin his life either like that. And, I didn’t have an attorney at the time,” Martinez said.
Madison County Attorney Joe Smith said the charges were reduced by his then-deputy county attorney Michael Long, who is now a county court judge in the 7th Judicial District.
“Ordinarily, the victim doesn’t want (a sexual assault case) reduced that much, but in this case, there was a very, very significant failure of proof. Mike Long ... talked to (Martinez), reviewed the case, did the deposition, and there was some unusual evidence with respect to her level of consent. There were some evidentiary issues that would have affected the trial adversely,” Smith said.
Smith said he is in support of LB358 but worries that, if it passes, convicted rapists won’t have to pay child support. Currently, Nebraska’s law allowing for the termination of parental rights of those convicted of first-degree sexual assault does not require that child support be paid after said termination.
“I will say first off that whether there’s visitation or not, the parents have an obligation to support. I will say that a fellow that has sex with a lady without her consent or against her wishes should be just as liable for child support as anybody else.
“I’ve read the bill, I think the intent is good. Reading (LB358), it seems to mean that the father would have no financial responsibility, no child support. It says terminate parental rights, and ordinarily in this state when you terminate those rights, you don’t have the obligation to pay,” Smith said.
Melcher declined to comment for this story, and his attorneys at Fitzgerald, Vetter, Temple & Bartell had no comment as well.
While Martinez was pregnant with her daughter, she filed and was awarded a restraining order against Melcher, after she said he sent her multiple text messages encouraging her to do harm to herself to cause an abortion.
“After the restraining order was over and my baby was born, (Melcher) showed up at my parents’ house saying his mom wanted to see my daughter. And he kind of started fighting me for custody,” Martinez said.
Though Melcher wasn’t awarded custody, he was allowed supervised visitations with his daughter. Initially, Melcher was allowed a half-hour every other Saturday, but that was increased over time to unsupervised visits on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m., Martinez said.
“I just don’t wish this upon anybody. I don’t think it’s right that rapists should have control over our children. We don’t know 100 percent what they’re thinking, why they want our kids, what’s going on when they have them by themselves,” Martinez said.
That was part of Martinez’s reasoning for becoming an advocate for LB358, she said. This will be the fourth year the bill will come before the Nebraska Legislature, and Martinez has testified — once in 2014 and once in 2015 — in support of it.
“It’s to revoke rapists’ parental rights. If a woman shows evidence, and it’s proven she was raped, then the rapists’ rights would be revoked unless the mother would choose to let him keep them.
“Right now, for me, (the court) said it’s in the best interest that (my daughter) have her father there. But how can you call that a father?” Martinez said.
Thanks to a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015, more states have begun to pass laws allowing for rape victims to have the parental rights of their rapists terminated.
The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act gives incentives to states that pass laws allowing sexual assault victims to terminate the parental rights of the rapist who impregnated them.
Fourteen states do not have any such laws on the books. Of the states which do allow for the termination of rapists’ parental rights, 16 — including Nebraska — have exceptions to these laws. In Nebraska, those convicted of second- and third-degree sexual assault resulting in the birth of a child can still exercise parental rights.
Martinez’s advocacy of LB358 drew the attention of journalist Lisa Ling, who hosts the documentary series “This is Life with Lisa Ling” on CNN. Martinez will appear in an episode titled “Sins of the Father,” which will air on CNN on Sunday, Nov. 13.
Liane Bode, former counselor to Martinez and fellow advocate of LB358, said the Lisa Ling interview had a profound impact on Martinez.
“I saw a big shift in her strength after Lisa Ling was here last fall. When Lisa let her know her story mattered, that’s when (Martinez) started to project a little louder about who she is as an advocate,” Bode said.
She encourages everyone in Nebraska to watch the documentary when it airs Sunday.
“We need (Nebraskans) to urge their senators to get this law passed,” Bode said.