NAPLES — He was 22 and she was 15 — and in love.
But when she became pregnant, she told her mother she’d been raped three times by a family friend.
Ramanand Jalsingh Dukharan of Golden Gate was arrested on Valentine’s Day last year, his 25th birthday, and charged with two counts of sexual battery, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in a state prison.
The teen’s story unraveled when her mother testified in a pre-trial statement that she knew her daughter was in love with Dukharan in the months she saw him in 2005 and 2006.
The teen’s mother didn’t want the baby’s father to go to prison. Instead, she wanted the baby, whom she was raising, to know her father. Attorneys negotiated a plea agreement.
Dukharan recently turned himself in to begin serving a two-year state prison sentence, followed by 10 years of sex-offender probation. He’d pleaded no contest to two counts of lewd or lascivious battery on Oct. 21 and Collier Circuit Judge Frank Baker had given him a furlough for a couple of weeks to tie up his financial affairs and family matters.
To ensure he returned, Baker sentenced him to 10 years of state prison, followed by two consecutive five-year terms of sex offender probation — a sentence he promised to mitigate if Dukharan surrendered on time.
It’s a threat that usually works, but for the rare few who flee, an arrest warrant will someday end in them serving the longer term. For those who turn up late, Baker doesn’t look kindly on that. He recently refused to reduce a sentence.
The hefty term hanging over Dukharan’s head worked. He was in court minutes before his 8:30 a.m. surrender deadline, sitting with his mother, grandmother and uncle.
“I see you’re back as you promised,” Baker said to Dukharan, who stood in a suit and tie next to defense attorney Nico Vitale.
Baker agreed to listen to the plea agreement Nitale and Assistant State Attorney Deb Cunningham had negotiated.
Although sex-offender probation has strict curfews and conditions, such as no Internet use, staying away from children, and keeping a log of all driving, Cunningham agreed to not contest Dukharan’s desire to see his young relatives — as long as their parents provided sworn affidavits that they would allow contact.
Baker imposed the reduced sentence and Dukharan took off his suit coat, tie and belt and handed them to his mother as he hugged her, his uncle and his crying grandmother, who wiped away tears. She blew him a kiss before a bailiff led him off to a holding cell.
The plea deal was below guidelines, which recommended eight years, or 12 years for the two second-degree felonies, which are punishable by a maximum of 15 years.
Due to the sexual nature of the case, the names of the girl and her grandmother, who lives in Virginia, aren’t being published.
“Her decision to ask for no prison was a very long drawn out process,” Cunningham said of the baby’s grandmother, who didn’t want Dukharan to go to prison. “She put a lot of thought into what was the right thing to do.”
The teenager also agreed with her mother, Cunningham said, adding, “They really felt it was more important that the baby was cared for.”
However, Cunningham said, some prison time was called for.
“That there was no force involved was a huge factor in the state’s decision to do a downward departure,” Cunningham said of it not turning out to be forcible rape. “And of course, the grandmother wanted no prison.”
Cunningham said Dukharan could petition the court to end probation early if he does well.
Vitale portrayed Dukharan as a hard-working father juggling three jobs to get by.
“This is not some guy preying on 15-year-old girls,” Vitale said. “He gave in to temptation. This girl was in love with him.”
But he agreed the State Attorney’s Office has a responsibility to the community.
“We need to have these laws, but not everybody’s a monster,” he added, praising the baby’s grandmother for pushing for leniency. “She said going to prison is not going to make him become a better father. He needs to be part of this little girl’s life because I know first-hand what it’s like to bring up a child alone.”
Dukharan won’t be able to erase his conviction under the state’s Romeo and Juliet Law, which allows a convict to petition the court to remove the sex-offender designation and erase a record if the “victim” was their boyfriend or girlfriend at the time and was less than four years younger.