Every morning when Angela Alexander showers, she sees in the mirror the marks Helaman Pragana left on her body. Two long scars down her back recall the time her former partner dragged her back into their house when she tried to flee his fists. A smudge by her right eye reminds her of a rug burn she received during one of the many times he sexually assaulted her. Such scars, the 29-year-old hair stylist says, remind her that, “I’m so very lucky. I had a lot of close calls with that man.”
Thanks to the information Alexander gave the Unified Police Department, Pragana is currently serving 35 years in the Utah State Prison in Gunnison for a six-month spree of robberies in 2011 at ATMs and gas stations that included kidnapping and vicious sexual assaults at gunpoint.
Pragana robbed people, his attorney would later tell a judge, to get money for food for Alexander, her children and other dependents. He said he also gave a percentage of his take—which totaled just under $7,500, according to court documents—as a tithe to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But, Alexander says, the terrifying reality behind his Robin Hood persona was a man who, she later told police, “was one minute as soft and cuddly as a kitten, the next minute an absolute psychopath.”
If Alexander hadn’t turned him in to Unified Police Department, she believes the now 23-year-old Brazilian jujitsu expert would have killed her or someone else. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder acknowledges that she was “absolutely critical” to his agency arresting Pragana. “Did we catch him because of her? Yes.”
After she initially called the Unified Police Department to report that she had information about a recent series of armed robberies, she didn’t turn up for a meeting with a detective or return phone calls, so UPD arrested her on an outstanding traffic warrant. She was handcuffed in front of her children, held for 14 hours, she says, and then released, only for her and her children to be evicted from their home. Despite her allegations against Pragana detailing cruel violence and sexual assaults, he was never charged with abusing her. And according to some in the criminal-justice system, the woman who brought an end to Pragana’s frightening rampage was practically a criminal herself.
“They’re painting me as the bad guy, even though I’m the one who made the whole case. I gave them my fiance on a silver platter,” Alexander says. “I was a black chick with a record [for passing bad checks] and tattoos,” which, she argues, led Unified officers and prosecutors to distrust her.
“It’s true that initially she was viewed as a subject, as a co-conspirator, and, frankly, she is,” says Winder, who says that Alexander had been “fully aware of the robberies” that Pragana was committing. “She could have been charged with these offenses. She was transporting him there, watching him conducting robberies. Essentially, she was fine with that.”
In a four-hour video of the police’s interview with Alexander, many of her comments were rife with ambiguity or contradiction. Some of her statements regarding her knowledge of Pragana’s criminal acts could be interpreted as suggesting that she was aware of the robberies from the beginning of their relationship, or—as she argues—that it was only in June that she became aware of them, by which point she was so mired in an abusive relationship with a manipulative, highly intelligent predator that she could not escape. Unified Police Department Capt. Don Hutson says Alexander knew “far too many details” about Pragana’s crimes, “details that fly in the face of a woman who says, ‘You go out and rob, I don’t want to know about it.’ ”
While Winder says his staff recognized that the abuse dynamics involved in Alexander’s relationship with Pragana were “troubling, to say the least,” UPD believes that it was only when Alexander found out her boyfriend was raping his victims that she turned on him. “Frankly, what we perceive is Ms. Alexander was angry he was having sex with other women,” Winder says.
Winder’s characterization of her attitude toward Pragana’s sexual assaults deeply offends Alexander. “It was sexual assault, it wasn’t sex,” she says in tears. “Who do you think he practiced on? How many times do I have to say this?” Winder, however, says he doesn’t dispute she was “as disgusted as everyone else” by what Pragana had done. Winder says he is simply trying to define the point where she “had a moment of departure from her willingness to tolerate Mr. Pragana’s behavior. That ended when she became aware he was sexually assaulting women.”
While the police say she sought compensation in exchange for information, she says she asked for help with her family’s relocation, not for snitch money.
All this leaves Alexander bewildered and upset. She went to the police, she says, because “I knew it was the right thing to do. The fact they’re trying to turn it around on me because I’m disagreeing with how they did their job is disgusting.”
Capt. Hutson is irritated by Alexander’s criticism of his agency. “It is a little frustrating and disappointing to me that she doesn’t feel like the system worked. I feel like we bent over backward to provide her all the services at our disposal, as well as trying to make sure she wasn’t in any sense victimized by law enforcement. I believe we treated her very fairly in the process.”
In the wake of Pragana’s November 2011 arrest, the Deseret News quoted Winder as saying they got their man through a combination of forensic evidence and “some good old gumshoe leather.” Alexander’s evidence was not mentioned. Furthermore, while UPD and the District Attorney’s Office acknowledge her as one of Pragana’s victims and indeed provided her with support and services, Pragana was not prosecuted for what he did to her.
Alexander says she used to say to Pragana, “If you’re going to hit me, can we get it over with, ’cause dinner’s got to be done.” While her own statements during interviews with police regarding her knowledge of Pragana’s robberies might have rendered her a problematic witness on the stand against her abuser, she feels she has the right to see Pragana held accountable for the physical, psychological and sexual abuse he inflicted upon her.
“Everybody wants their day in court, but not everybody can have their day in court. As a prosecutor, I have to acknowledge the challenges that her narrative presents,” says Sim Gill, Salt Lake County District Attorney. “It may not be the most perfect justice that she got, but Mr. Pragana is going to be in prison for a long time.”
But who, Alexander asks, has the right to make that call? “Who’s the detective and who’s the prosecutor to decide that’s enough justice meted out?” she says. “That’s not justice for all. That’s justice for some.”
Alexander raises important questions not only about the kind of victim that society finds acceptable as opposed to ones it turns away from but also the very nature of justice itself.
Alexander’s friend of five years, Leslie Miller, works for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA), where she focuses on the coordination between agencies responding to sexual assaults. While she cannot comment on the specifics of Alexander’s case, Miller says her friend’s story begs the question of whether justice has truly been served. Is Pragana’s incarceration “enough justice for Angie? Obviously it’s not.”