Omaha Prosecutors Disheartened by Sentence Given to Lyft Driver Who Raped Passenger
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Omaha Prosecutors Disheartened by Sentence Given to Lyft Driver Who Raped Passenger

An article published by the Omaha World-Herald reveals that Douglas County District Judge Timothy Burns sentenced Komlanvi Avitso, a Lyft driver convicted of raping an intoxicated woman in his car, to 10 to 12 years in prison. We reported on Avitso’s conviction back in just of 2021. Under Nebraska state law, which cuts most sentences in half, Avitso will serve five years before he is eligible for parole and six if he isn’t paroled. Avitso, a Togo transplant who immigrated to Omaha to attend college, faced up to 50 years in prison.

The sentence disheartened observers present in the courtroom. A police detective shook her head. Relatives of the victim, a young woman in her 20s, dropped theirs. Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine was taken aback. He said the sentence was “comparatively lenient” — when viewed against the backdrop of Avitso’s deviant behavior and his refusal to take responsibility.

“She just wanted to get a ride home — and she trusted him to do that. He violated her trust, and he took no responsibility for a horrific act. This really seems to be a light sentence for what he did,” Kleine said.

According to detectives’ accounts and court testimony, the crime happened after the woman had been out with friends in downtown Omaha in May 2019. After she became intoxicated, her friends summoned a Lyft. A friend punched in an address that was close but not exactly the woman’s house. The first Lyft driver took her to the address, but it clearly wasn’t her home.

He then took her to a closed gas station and called for someone else to get the woman. Avitso arrived and drove the nearly passed-out woman around while he tried to find her home. He eventually stopped at another gas station so the woman could use the bathroom. After the woman took a long time, Avitso and a clerk found her passed out on the toilet and got her back in the Lyft.

About 2 a.m., Avitso’s car ended up in the parking lot of a deserted business. Cellphone records showed the woman’s phone there for 42 minutes. Avitso told jurors that he was trying to figure out her destination.

But prosecutor Molly Keane, a deputy Douglas County attorney, said the deserted parking lot was where the rape took place.

After 3 a.m., Avitso unlocked the woman’s phone and found her address. He dropped her off about 3:30 a.m.

The woman soon remembered vague details that led her to believe that she had been assaulted — pushing a man away, the driver asking if it was her time of the month, her fingernails hurting, as if she had clawed someone. She went to an emergency room. DNA tests filled in the rest.

Before imposing the sentence, Burns gazed out into the gallery until he found the woman. He took issue with a notion that a prosecutor relayed: that the woman was kicking herself for being so drunk that night.

“I want to make sure you understand you are blameless,” Burns told her. “The sexual assault is totally and 100% the doing of Mr. Avitso. The only person to blame is Mr. Avitso.”

The real person being punished, Keane said, is the victim. In the past two years, the woman has battled the fear and feelings of vulnerability that come with such attacks, Keane said.

“She has been scarred,” Keane said. “This has changed her life forever.”

The Omaha woman has borne the biggest cost, Keane said. The prosecutor said the young woman has gone through therapy and made strides. An attorney noted she is engaged to be married. In a powerful victim impact statement, the woman described the violation, sleeplessness and pain she has endured.

Avitso “didn’t think about the countless therapy sessions,” she wrote. “He didn’t think about the guilt that I so wrongly put on my own shoulders for being drunk. He didn’t think about any of these things because he thought only of himself.”

After the sentencing, prosecutors questioned what the judge was thinking. Burns had mentioned Avitso’s lack of a record and his standing as a family man before this crime took place. But he also blasted his criminal behavior and noted that Avitso hadn’t taken responsibility.

Courtney repeatedly told the judge that Avitso will be deported to Togo once his sentence is served.

“Deportation shouldn’t be a factor” in the length of the sentence, Kleine said. “This is about keeping people safe, no matter where the defendant is. … There are certain crimes where a judge needs to send a message that this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated.”