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Sex assault case dismissed after accuser flees Utah to avoid deportation

Stephen Strate appears in Utah’s 4th District Court in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. The Orem man, who was acquitted of murder, no longer faces assault charges in a separate case after prosecutors say the victim left the state to avoid deportation. Spenser Heaps

OREM — An Orem man who was acquitted of murder no longer faces assault charges in a separate case after prosecutors say the victim left the state to avoid deportation.

Stephen Edward Strate, 64, was accused of holding a gun to a hair salon employee in Provo, demanding sex acts and threatening her.

If she returns to Utah, prosecutors say they could refile the charges of aggravated sexual assault, a first-degree felony, and aggravated assault, a third-degree felony — a potential move made possible by a judge’s Thursday order dismissing the case without prejudice.

“Without her testimony, we cannot sustain the allegations against Mr. Strate,” said deputy Utah County attorney Craig Johnson. “Hopefully we can get her justice in the long term.”

The 33-year-old stylist managed to wrest control of Strate’s handgun at a hair salon in Provo on Jan. 18 after he kissed and groped her, unbuttoned his pants and tried to force her to touch him, charging documents state. When she refused, police say he pulled out the gun, held it to her “neck/head and told her he was going to shoot her in the head if she would not play his ‘game.’”

She ordered him to leave the salon and locked the door, and he later returned and gave her $200 so she wouldn’t talk to police, the charges allege. While he had previously offered her money in exchange for sex, no consensual sexual behavior had occurred, Johnson said.

Strate’s attorney, Ron Yengich, did not return a message seeking comment Monday. In 2011, a jury found that his client acted in self-defense when he fatally shot his brother-in-law, 51-year-old Marvin Sidwell, five times.

The hairstylist, who had received a deportation order after failing to appear for an immigration hearing, is not alone in cutting off communication with investigators in order to avoid detection by immigration authorities.

“It happens often enough that it’s a real concern to the state,” Johnson said, declining to say where she is living now. The Utah County Attorney’s Office worked with federal immigration officers in order to help her obtain a U visa, reserved for victims of crimes, but at some point the effort failed.

Last year, as President Donald Trump’s administration took a harder line on immigration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement appeared to ramp up detention and deportation of those who applied for the visa, the Associated Press reported, though ICE officers denied any changes to U visa protocol at the time. Congress created the visas in 2000, as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.

In Utah, Strate faces no current restrictions barring him from possessing a gun, Johnson said, but law enforcers hope his family members will dissuade him from doing so.

“Clearly with the number of incidents involving Mr. Strate and firearms, the state is concerned about the safety of the public as long as he has access to firearms,” Johnson said.