Mom-of-3 Was Startled Awake, Raped in Iowa Hotel Bed After Staff Member Let Attacker into Room

Cheri Marchionda, who settled a civil suit against the hotel operator, is speaking out to encourage better hotel security

Photo: Polk County Attorney's Office

The man who flirted with Cheri Marchionda at the hotel bar somehow learned her room number and jarred her by calling her after she’d gone to bed.

Still, behind the double-lock on her door at an Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, Marchionda, a business executive traveling alone, felt safe.

But hours later, while Marchionda was sleeping, hotel staff helped the man enter her room. The man then startled Marchionda awake and sexually assaulted her for more than two hours.

The attacker, Christopher LaPointe, later pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual abuse and third-degree burglary in the 2014 attack, for which he was sentenced to 20 years. The hotel employee’s actions were the subject of a civil lawsuit settled last week between Marchionda and the hotel.

Marchionda spoke out recently about the harrowing experience, telling CBS This Morning: Saturday co-host Dana Jacobson that after the phone rang, “I pick up the phone, and that’s when he said, ‘Do you want to hang out? And I recognized the voice from the last two days, and I said, ‘No.'”

“And that’s when I said, ‘How did you get this number?’ And he said to me, ‘I have friends.'”

In reality, LaPointe had told the front desk staff that he was staying in Marchionda’s room, and without checking his ID and verifying whether he had a right to a key card, the staff gave him one, according to Marchionda’s attorneys, who settled the suit for an undisclosed amount.

When LaPointe tried to use the key, the double-lock kept him out. Again he sought help from the front desk, “which sent a maintenance worker to the room,” according to a statement from Marchionda’s attorneys Peter M. Villari, Paul D. Brandes and Michael A. Hanamirian.

“That maintenance worker then disengaged the lock and allowed LaPointe to enter the room,” said the statement. “According to the maintenance worker’s testimony, the security bar latch was in place, preventing the door from opening more than a few inches. It was this lock the employee disengaged, thinking it was LaPointe’s room.”

Marchionda told CBS she fell asleep — and “the next thing I remember was someone touching my leg.” She added, “I woke up thinking I was at home. So at first I’m like, rubbing my eyes. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. No, you’re in this room, and then who is this guy?'”

“And so, you know, in these seconds, you’re trying to process, like, who is this person at the end of your bed? And that’s when he said, ‘You’re not gonna scream rape.'”

“He had something in his hand,” Marchionda said. “Was it a knife, was it a gun, was it the remote control? I don’t know. But at that moment, you’re so scared because you don’t know what’s happening or what’s gonna happen.”

She recalls trying to scream, “but nothing comes out,” she said. “You think you’re kicking, and your legs don’t move. And the freezing part is the hardest part, I think, for me. Because it was, ‘I’m this tough girl, and I’ve been traveling all along,’ and you know, you think if it ever happens to you, you’re gonna kick butt. And in that moment, you want to survive, and that’s all I thought about, was surviving. Because I have these three beautiful children I wanted to go home to.”

‘They Need to Figure Out a Better System’

Following LaPointe’s December 2014 conviction, Marchionda filed her civil suit in 2015 against John Q. Hammons Hotels Management LLC, which managed the hotel, and Atrium TRS III, which owned and operated the hotel, alleging they “failed in their duty to protect her from harm by another guest” as evidenced by giving LaPointe access to her room upon his request, according to her attorneys.

The management firm declined comment to CBS This Morning. Atrium Hospitality affirmed that terms of the settlement reached with Marchionda were confidential, and told the program in a statement that it is “focused on industry-leading safety practices to provide” for its guests.

Marchionda, a Pennsylvania mom who at the time was an executive for a frozen food manufacturer, said she wanted to share her experience to alert others.

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“I’m on long-term disability now, which then eliminated my position at my company,” she said. “I would probably say for the first three years, I thought it was just me who was going through this. These last two years have been an eye opener for not only my children, but my brother, my dad, my mom, my cousins, my uncle. When you’re kind of, like, that apple of somebody’s eye, and you’re working so hard in your career, and your uncle is so proud of you, to have to, you know, that he knows what happened to you. … At the end of the day he still looks at me like this broken person that he just wants to put his arm around you and protect you.”

“People are aware that when you think you’re gonna go into a hotel room, and that you’re gonna go to sleep and close your eyes, and that you’re safe, you’re not,” she said. “They need to figure out a better system within the industry to figure out how to keep people safe.”

LaPointe appealed his conviction, alleging ineffective counsel and failure of the state to follow terms of his plea agreement, but his appeal was denied, reports Des Moines CBS affiliate KCCI.

His release from prison is scheduled for Jan. 2, 2024.

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