Mazen Alotaibi appears in Las Vegas Justice Court for a hearing at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas in January. (Leila Navidi / AP)
LAS VEGAS — More than nine months after a Saudi Arabian air force sergeant arrived in Las Vegas for a New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration, jury selection began Thursday in his trial on charges of raping a 13-year-old boy in a Strip hotel room.
The courtroom drama involving defendant Mazen Alotaibi will feature an attempt to persuade jurors that the boy tricked him into having sex and police violated his rights while he was hung over.
Alotaibi, 24, has pleaded not guilty to nine felonies, including kidnapping, sexual assault with a minor under 14 years of age, lewdness with a child under the age of 14 and sexually motivated coercion. A burglary count alleges he entered a room with intent to commit a crime.
Alotaibi could face life in prison if convicted.
He has rejected a plea deal that would have avoided trial if he pleaded guilty to four charges of attempted sexual assault and attempted lewdness. He could have faced a sentence of probation or up to 80 years in prison.
Defense lawyer Don Chairez maintains that Alotaibi was too tired and drunk after a night downing cognac at a strip club to waive his right to have a lawyer present during police questioning.
“When you’re tired and drunk and somebody is badgering you for an hour and a half, you sometimes say what someone wants you to say,” Chairez said.
Alotaibi told police during a 70-minute recorded interview that the boy approached him early Dec. 31 in a hallway of the Circus Circus hotel-casino, pestered him about buying marijuana, accompanied him to a room where other Saudi military members were smoking, and consented to sex for money.
The boy, from Sacramento, Calif., was in Las Vegas with his divorced father for the New Year holiday. Chairez said he lied about what happened.
“The boy was a child prostitute,” said Chairez, who intends to question the boy closely on the witness stand about varying accounts he has provided to authorities about the encounter.
The boy initially told police he was on his way to a doughnut shop when Alotaibi forced him into a sixth-floor room at the hotel and attacked him. But casino video shown during an Aug. 1 evidentiary hearing showed the boy walking with Alotaibi in the casino.
Police reported collecting DNA evidence from the boy, as well as a used condom and soiled towel from the bathroom where the boy said the attack took place.
Chairez wouldn’t concede that sex took place. He said DNA evidence is inconclusive. And he said that if sex did take place, it was consensual.
“The boy was selling his body for marijuana,” he said. “Mazen has a hazy recollection of what took place.”
Nevada state law says children under 16 cannot consent to sex. But Chairez said it wasn’t that simple. The defense attorney said the state could have charged Alotaibi with statutory sexual seduction, a lesser felony charge carrying a possible sentence of probation or up to 10 years in prison.
Both sides say it could take all day to pick 12 jurors and several alternates for an expected five days of testimony to begin Monday.
Prosecutors plan to have the boy testify early in the trial.
Chairez said he and Alotaibi haven’t decided whether Alotaibi will testify in his defense. Alotaibi is being held at the Clark County jail on $1.72 million bail.
Alotaibi was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., for training.