CHALMETTE, La. – A grand jury has indicted St. Bernard Parish President Dave Peralta for the alleged sexual battery of his estranged wife.
A warrant is out for his arrest, and he is expected to turn himself in to authorities Thursday morning.
Sharon Peralta had no comment as she left the St. Bernard Courthouse after testifying for about 90 minutes before a grand jury.
She is accusing Peralta of beating, handcuffing and raping her at their Meraux home on her 49th birthday last fall.
After considering several charges, including forcible rape, a grand jury indicted Peralta on one count of sexual battery.
These cases can be difficult, said Eyewitness News Legal Analyst Chick Foret.
“It's going to be my word against your word. A) Did I touch you sexually? and B) Was it without your consent?” said Foret.
Peralta has said he and his estranged wife had engaged in bondage in the past, and the act was consensual. His lawyer claims there is no evidence to prove otherwise, although prosecutors disagree.
“I think it's ridiculous, myself, I just do. I think if he wasn't in the position he held, he holds a public position, we wouldn't be having this conversation,” said Peralta’s attorney, Steve London.
“It certainly, at this point, was enough evidence for the grand jury to determine that the process should move forward in the form of a formal criminal charge,” said David Caldwell, an assistant attorney general.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case because the St. Bernard Parish President recused himself.
Louisiana law doesn't require Peralta to step down unless he is convicted, said Foret. Peralta has said he plans to run for re-election next year, but it is unclear if his plans have changed since the indictment.
Moving forward, Foret said, a conviction depends on who the jury believes.
“You look at the surrounding circumstances, but the critical part of a sexual battery case or any sex crime case is the credibility of the witnesses, and in this case the credibility of the alleged victim, Mrs. Peralta,” said Foret.
"For Mr. Peralta to say he raped his wife to fulfill her fantasy on her birthday is ludicrous. If he was not the parish president he would have been arrested the night of the rape," said Vernon Thomas, Sharon Peralta’s attorney.
Sexual battery can carry up to 10 years in prison.