The young mother who was raped and sodomized by a robber at the Buffalo convenience store where she worked was strong and solemn as she sat in court Wednesday afternoon while her attacker was sentenced.
A year after the assault, she told the court, she is still recovering, but she also knows that she will recover. Prosecutor Rosanne E. Johnson, chief of the Erie County District Attorney’s Special Victims Bureau, read the statement on behalf of the woman, who was surrounded by her family as she faced defendant Michael Sanchez, 28, across the courtroom.
“I looked at myself as a victim until I realized what happened was not my fault,” the woman wrote. She survived, she said, and will be able to care for her toddler son and watch him grow up.
County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio sentenced Sanchez to 25 years in prison plus 25 years of post-release supervision.
The victim’s statement described the events of Feb. 22, 2015, the day that changed and damaged her life and her world.
She began work, as usual, at the 7-Eleven on Niagara Street at Hertel Avenue at 10 p.m., although she had considered calling in that night because she had an odd feeling that something was “off.”
But for about six hours, everything went as usual for a cold winter night: The regulars came in, she cleaned up and straightened up, took care of the register and, in the slow pre-dawn hours, she was counting the cash in her own wallet when Sanchez came in.
He looked over the counter and told her to give him her money, she said. She thought he was kidding until he grabbed the cash and demanded more. Sanchez was larger and stronger, visibly angry and, she feared, may have had a weapon, so she turned over the contents of the register and cigarettes.
He wasn’t done. As he grabbed the clerk, she pushed the store’s panic button before she was pulled into a backroom and raped.
“While he was assaulting me, the only thing I could think of was my son – and wanting to see him again,” she said.
A Buffalo News deliveryman came in with the morning papers as Sanchez fled the store and, seeing the hysterical young woman, he locked the door. Police arrived minutes later and caught up with Sanchez, who has been in jail ever since.
The woman describes the awful aftermath – of going to the hospital, crying while a nurse collected evidence for the rape kit, taking “terrible” medicines for four weeks to make sure she didn’t get HIV, and then living with the night terrors and flashbacks. It was seven months before she could return to work to support her child.
“The thought of leaving home terrified me,” she said. She has found a new job now, and has vowed to be strong for her child and family.
She also gave thanks to the district attorney’s staff, Buffalo police, her victim’s advocate and, she said, “I want to thank the newspaper guy who locked the door after I was assaulted, I want to thank my family and friends, and my guardian angel and God.”
Sanchez was already a two-time felon when he pleaded guilty to first-degree rape, two counts of criminal sexual act and robbery, and at that time, DiTullio told him she would be considering the sentence of 25 years in prison plus 25 years post-release supervision.
She stayed true to that Wednesday.
First, DiTullio praised the young woman, telling her she was courageous and “a fighter.”
Turning to Sanchez, DiTullio continued, “You may have had power that evening, but you have no power today. You’re a violent criminal, you’re a thug, you’re a rapist. You will serve every second of that 25 years.”