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Jury in retrial of accused child molester expected to get case Friday

A former Army sergeant on trial for a second time on charges of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl vehemently denied that he touched her, saying he is a law-abiding person.

“I’m not that type of person,” defendant Nathan Rojas said on the stand Thursday. “I’m a law-abiding person. I would never do that. I have kids of my own.”

It was the last day of testimony in the retrial before Cochise County Superior Judge James Conlogue.

A jury convicted Rojas of the assault in July 2018. But because a news blogger in the courtroom took video of the proceedings and later published it on social media, showing the faces of some of the jurors, a new trial was granted. The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the Cochise County Superior Court judge who granted the new trial.

The incident occurred Aug. 25, 2016, when the child was 5 and attending Rojas’ mother’s daycare at the mother’s Sierra Vista residence.

Rojas lived a few houses from his mother and was accused of taking the girl from the daycare and assaulting her in his bedroom, investigators said.

At the start of Rojas’ trial on July 8, Cochise County Deputy Attorney Terisha Driggs told jurors, “You are here today because the defendant had sexual misconduct with a 5-year-old girl.”

Driggs described the events. Driggs told jurors that the girl — who is not being named because of her age — would not tell her mother later that day what occurred because it was “mine and Nathan’s secret.”

The child’s mother called a friend who is a nurse practitioner and asked her to come to her residence. The girl told the nurse what had happened. The nurse told the girl’s mother to call police.

Last week, when the girl — who is now 9 — testified, she said she was assaulted by Rojas and was physically hurt. She recalled she thought she and Rojas were going to his residence to “get snacks.”

Rojas’ wife, Erin Rojas, testified, as did his mother, Suzette Gray. The girl and her mother also testified. The girl’s mother is not being identified in order to protect the child’s identity.

The defense wrapped up its questioning on Thursday afternoon with Rojas as its last witness. Closing arguments are expected in the morning, and then the 12-member jury will deliberate the case.

Local businesses benefit from PPP

SIERRA VISTA — There’s no guarantee every business will survive the pandemic. More than 500 local businesses received relief from the Paycheck Protection Program to help them manage through the uncertainty.

The U.S. Treasury Department and Small Business Administration released on July 6 data on the loans and where they went. The names of companies that received more than $150,000 were released; those that received less remained anonymous. In Sierra Vista, 401 businesses received PPP loans less than $150,000 and 43 businesses received more than that. Wick Communications, the parent company of the Herald/Review, is one of the 43 companies that received a PPP loan of more than $150,000.

Premier Alliances was one of six Bisbee-based businesses to receive more than $150,000 from the PPP. Another 75 businesses received less than $150,000.

“Like so many other nonprofit organizations, Premier Alliances, Inc. has faced challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Derek Jordan, outreach and events coordinator for Premier Alliances, said in an email statement to the Herald/Review. “The federal Paycheck Protection Program has allowed us to ensure there is no disruption to our ability to provide meaningful employment opportunities to individuals with additional needs.”

Jordan said the company has 50 employees and the loan will last about 14 weeks.

These loans are forgivable, which means if the recipients follow the guidelines and requirements they will not have to pay back the money. Money given through the PPP is for payroll use and maintaining staff. According to the Small Business Association website, “The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. SBA will forgive loans if all employee retention criteria are met, and the funds are used for eligible expenses.”

William Lacy, President of Mary’s Mission in Sierra Vista and Hereford, said the corporation received a PPP loan, which helped offset costs for masks and sanitation supplies. Before receiving the loan, Lacy said hours were cut for positions he felt weren’t “essential” in order to keep operations going.

“I wouldn’t have been able to operate,” Lacy said. “We were going through a deficit at the time COVID hit.”

In an effort to make sure the PPP funds are allocated and spent correctly, Lacy created a separate account for it. He said he has to file a report with the bank showing how the money was spent; if the bank deems the money wasn’t spent as specified, he would have to pay it back. Lacy estimates the loan will help him cover six months, starting in May.

Mary’s House is a therapeutic center for children ages 11 to 17 who need help with behavioral and substance problems. Lacy said the center has 16 boys and eight girls from around the state it is housing. He said if they didn’t have the funds he would be stuck because he’d have to continue to serve some Native American children because they are from reservations that have closed because of the coronavirus.

“I would have to maintain them,” Lacy said. “I couldn’t send them back because it’s a health and safety issue.”

There is speculation Congress will vote in the next couple of weeks on a round of funds to help small businesses that could be used for more than just payroll. Small business can still apply for PPP loans at the SBA website.