BISBEE — A Sierra Vista man found guilty in the sexual abuse of a five–year–old girl last year will get a new trial as the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the decision of Superior Court Judge Wallace Hoggatt.
Appeals Court Judges Phillip Espinosa, Ruth Kea Eckerstrom and Karl Eppich unanimously affirmed Hoggatt’s decision and granted a new trial to suspect Nathan Rojas due to possible jury interference which arose from a video made by David Morgan, a local news blogger.
Last summer, Morgan was given permission to video the court proceeding against the wishes of the defense, but was cautioned about capturing any views of the jury. According to the court documents, the images of a few of the jurors were on the video recording and were seen by people when he posted them online.
A friend of one of the jurors called to ask if she was on the jury of the molestation case because she had seen a video online and thought she saw the juror. The juror then told other jurors about the post and provided them with a link to the website.
When Hoggatt was made aware of the actions of the juror, Rojas’s defense attorneys asked the judge to call a mistrial.
Hoggatt watched the video and agreed three jurors were identifiable. He questioned each of the jurors and determined through their answers the trial could proceed without affecting their decision to Rojas’s verdict even though the information had been passed around.
The juror who shared the online link was excused.
Some of the jurors were unhappy with the video showing their likenesses even though they were side views.
“They had been assured by the court that the jury would not be shown and they did not want people to know they were on Rojas’ jury,” Eppich wrote in the decision.
According to the court transcript, one juror stated, “I was concerned that the reporter included an image of the jury, whether they were facing the camera or not. We all have friends and associates locally. If that were to hit the news, it’s not long before every juror would be known.”
Eppich also stated that Morgan’s video recording violated a rule that cameras in a courtroom “must be placed to avoid showing jurors in any manner.” The rule protects not just the jurors’ identities, but also the integrity of the jury system. Those serving on a jury “must be protected from possible intimidation or reprisals for any verdict they may reach.”
On reflection, Hoggatt decided Rojas needed a new trial and apologized to the jurors for failing to keep their identities private. He also said he could not determine “beyond a reasonable doubt, the extraneous information the jury heard did not taint the verdict.”
The County Attorney’s Office disagreed and filed the appeal based on the premise the information the jurors saw, or could have seen, “was not evidence, and therefore, cannot be grounds for a new trial.”
Eppich noted the Supreme Court ruled “evidence means any information likely to be considered by the jury in determining the guilt or innocence of the defendant.”
Since the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the video was not taken into consideration when the jury reached their guilty verdict, Eppich affirmed the right for Rojas to have a new trial.
Though the prosecutor stood by the belief the jury’s conclusion of guilt was “not tainted” as a result of Morgan’s video, and speculated the new trial order was a “misdirected attempt to address Morgan’s misconduct,” the appeals judges did not agree it “was an unfair penalty to the state, particularly given the absence of misconduct by the state.”
Rojas was arrested by the Sierra Vista Police Department on Aug. 26, 2016, and faced three felonies of sexual misconduct with a minor involving a child who attended a daycare operated by the his mother. Authorities said he took the girl to his house down the street from the daycare and sexually abused her.
Two of the charges were dropped at the request of prosecutor Michael Powell at the start of the trial last year, but Rajos still could face 35 years for the one remaining count of sexual abuse of the child.
SIERRA VISTA — When word began circulating that the Salvation Army thrift store in Sierra Vista would be closing, Diane McDaniel started hearing concerns from the community. Would their thrift store be next?
McDaniel, president of the St. Andrew the Apostle Conference of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, wants to assure everyone that their thrift store at 220 E. Meyer Drive is safe.
“We’ve been here on the west side of town since 1980 and we’re not going anywhere,” McDaniel said. “We’re here where our friends need us.”
The thrift store serves two separate but equally important missions as part of the Society’s overall goal of providing assistance to those in need.
First, the money generated by the store aims to cover all overhead costs for the local conference, or chapter, of the Society. That means all donations the group takes in can be used to provide food, help with utility bills or give other assistance rather than going to administrative costs.
The store, along with the food bank and administrative office run by the conference, have a few paid staff, but rely heavily on more than 50 volunteers to keep everything running.
Second, many of the donations the store receives are available for those who come to the group’s food bank or administrative office and are deemed eligible for clothing and/or furniture vouchers.
“I have literally seen people in tears after getting their items,” said Store Manager Shelly Granger. “Many of them have nowhere else to go, they didn’t know what they were going to do.” She said she will often have the items delivered for free as well.
Everyone who comes to the food bank for assistance sits down with a St. Vincent member, who assess their situation and helps them come up with a plan and resources to address their challenges, McDaniel said.
Some of the clients, or “friends” as the Society calls them, who come in are people who were living paycheck to paycheck and have had an unexpected emergency expense, she added. “Our idea is to catch people, help them level off.”
Other friends come in more often.
“We do help the homeless a lot,” McDaniel said.
Both women said the Society allows them to make decisions based on what they are witnessing, so their hands aren’t tied if someone needs some extra help or has a special situation they may not have encountered before.
“If we can find a way to help, we will,” McDaniel said. “Any need is within the realm of our service.”
Their food bank serves more than 3,000 people every month, giving out more than 12,000 food boxes last year.
McDaniel said she has seen the demand for food increase recently, which is one of the primary reasons behind the organization’s upcoming “Walk For The Poor” food drive.
Participants will gather at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church at 9:30 a.m., with the walk starting at 10. The walk will be to the food bank at 614 Bartow Drive, about a mile away, with the goal of raising donations and awareness of poverty and hunger in the area.
Staples like peanut butter and jelly, tuna, canned soups, fruits and beans, Hamburger Helper and healthy cereals are among the items being sought. Cash donations are “always welcome,” McDaniel said, and tax-deductible as well.
With the Salvation Army thrift store closing in about a month, McDaniel and Granger have been preparing for all contingencies.
“Often we are the first stop for people, and they (Salvation Army) are the second, or vice versa,” Granger said. “So we’re not really sure what kind of increase we will see.”
Regardless, Granger and her team are prepared. She has spent the last several weeks streamlining processes for donation intake and staffing, and the store is nearly stuffed to capacity with furniture, toys, books, clothing, household items and much more.
Outside, more furniture, exercise equipment and other items await new homes. Many of them are designated to be given to those who come from the administrative office with vouchers, McDaniel said.
At this time, “all options” are on the table, she said, which could include acquiring more storage space, or even a larger store. They are also exploring whether a Wednesday pickup day, along with their current Monday and Friday runs, will be added.
Both emphasized that the work the thrift store and Society do wouldn’t be possible without community support, especially from local churches.
“We call them up and tell them about a situation and how we want to help, but don’t have the money, and they always come through for us,” McDaniel said.
For Granger, managing the thrift store is more than just the position she has held the last nine months.
“This is where God wanted me to be,” she said. “I love my job. You see something new every day. I’ve never had a bad day here — I love the people. When I see them, I’m glad I do the job that I do.”
To arrange a donation pick-up or for more information, call 520-458-0870.