How to Get Away with MURDER

A woman witnesses her boyfriend's murder, is then raped, and now faces criminal charges herself. Unbelievable but true

Taylor's obvious bias aside, many in the legal world share his view. "Prosecutors should not shy away from this case because she lied," says Sam Rabin, a prominent criminal-defense attorney who recently won a client's release from prison after another man confessed to the crime. Rabin is also a former assistant state attorney who spent three years prosecuting capital murder cases (he is not involved in the Lola case). "It is not uncommon for there to be problematic witnesses in murder cases. They have bad backgrounds or are involved in illegality themselves. This case is prosecutable. There is independent corroboration of the murder -- that's why this case is prosecutable. If they only had her, I could understand. But they do have more than her, and they should proceed."

Kellie Greene, a rape victims advocate who has worked with trauma sufferers, does not find Lola's reticence unusual. In fact, according to a 2000 Justice Department report, as many as 84 percent of rape victims do not call police. It is considered one of the most underreported crimes in America. In Lola's case, Greene posits, she may have been in shock; she may have felt shame and humiliation about the violation, especially if there was sexual abuse in her past (Lola told detectives she had been molested previously). Greene, a rape survivor herself, started the advocacy program Speaking Out About Rape (SOAR) in Tampa, and has consulted with the U.S. Department of Justice; the Criminal Justice Institute in Little Rock, Arkansas; and the Florida Attorney General's office on sensitivity training for law-enforcement personnel who work with victims of sexual assault.

"I'm totally appalled they would drop the murder charges," Greene says. "And I think it's appalling to go after someone who, if she was the victim of a sexual crime, probably reacted as best as she knew how in a stressful situation."

Celia Lola says she jumped from a second-story window (right) to 
escape Luis Leon, who allegedly had just raped her
Jonathan Postal
Celia Lola says she jumped from a second-story window (right) to escape Luis Leon, who allegedly had just raped her

Petite and pretty, 31-year-old Celia Lola seems an unlikely actor in the drama that has consumed her life. On the day she meets New Times in her lawyer's Coconut Grove office, she is dressed in a conservative dark top and slacks, her hair pulled back. She has no prior arrest record. In the two years since the attack, she has married and is pregnant. But as she recounts her life, it is also clear that forces beyond her control had perched her on the edge of an abyss for a long time. She just needed a push.

Her father is a former U.S. Air Force pilot who met Lola's mother while he was stationed in Nicaragua, where Lola was born. The family moved to air bases in Louisiana and Texas until the father lost most of the sight in one eye following a plane crash. He retired, received disability, and moved his family to Miami, where Lola was raised in Kendall's Winston Park and attended Miami Sunset Senior High School. She liked roller-skating and going to football games. After graduation she worked in doctors' offices as a receptionist and toyed with the idea of becoming a nurse or doctor. "I liked helping people," she says.

But by her midtwenties, it was apparent that future employment would be difficult. Throughout Lola's life, she was hobbled by severe depression and anxiety attacks that left her hospitalized, often for weeks at a time. At the age of 25 she was diagnosed as a bipolar schizophrenic. That coincided with becoming pregnant from a long-term relationship that eventually ended. At the age of 27, as a single mother, she was legally classified as disabled. She began taking medication to combat her condition while living with her parents in their modest three-bedroom house in the green and quiet suburbs.

Frank Pacheco lived at home with his parents on the same street. Lola would see him while she was outside in the yard with her child. He was a single parent too. When they met, his son was three years old.

"Frankie never really told me what he did for a living," Lola says during a supervised interview in Taylor's law office. "I know he was home a lot and that he wasn't doing steady work. He was working for a temp agency, and I know he worked for his dad. I don't know what they did. That's how I met him. He was home during the day like me, and he would see me in the yard." (Newspaper accounts stated that Pacheco worked full-time selling machines that read credit and debit cards.)

They had other things in common besides parenting. Both had trouble sleeping and would talk for hours on the phone late at night. "Frank was very tall, very handsome, and very, very kind and understanding," she recalls. "He made me feel that despite all my depression and problems that he would protect me."

Pacheco had his own troubles, though. He had a score of minor arrests -- petty theft, marijuana possession, and one charge for breaking into a car -- and did not hide the fact that he smoked crack with friends.

Lola says the two had been friends for more than a year before she began dating him about two months before his death. She claims she was wary of getting too involved because of his drug use. While it concerned her, she didn't question it: "He just told me that's what he and his buddies did. I accepted it. He was a nice guy, in a good neighborhood, from a good family. And that's what he does to have fun. As long as I didn't become addicted, I didn't think there was a problem."

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