The retrial of a man previously found guilty of sexually abusing a 5-year-old girl resulted in the same verdict Friday afternoon in Cochise County Superior Court.
Nathan Rojas, 34, a former Army sergeant who denied during his testimony that he would do anything to hurt a child, again was found guilty of sexaul conduct with a minor.
It took the 12-member jury a little over two hours to reach their verdict Friday in Superior Court Judge James Conlogue’s courtroom following a seven-day trial that started on July 8. Jurors had to deliberate in Conlogue’s courtroom rather than the smaller jury room because of social distancing guidelines at the courthouse.
Assistant County Attorney Michael Powell delivered blistering closing arguments Friday morning when he described in graphic detail what had happened to the youngster on Aug. 25, 2016, in Rojas’ bedroom in Sierra Vista. The girl, who is now 9 and is not being identified because she is a victim of sexual assault and because of her age, was a client of Suzette Gray, Rojas’ mother, at Gray’s home-based daycare.
“It’s been four years and there are certain things she couldn’t remember,” Powell said of the youngster. “But certain things are absolutely clear— she was alone with the defendant at his house, and he assaulted her.”
Defense attorney Rodrigo Andrade’s closing arguments were aimed at discrediting the prosecution’s statements, as well as the child’s.
“They’re throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks,” Andrade said at one point.
Because the media had to listen to the proceedings by phone because of COVID-19 concerns, a lot of Andrade’s statements could not be heard because he moved around the courtroom as he was speaking and did not talk into the microphone.
A jury initially convicted Rojas of the offense in July 2018. But because a news blogger in the courtroom took unauthorized 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 at the time.
Rojas, who lived a few houses from his mother, was accused of taking the girl from the daycare and assaulting her in his bedroom.
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, telling jurors that the girl would not tell her mother later that day what occurred because it was “mine and Nathan’s secret.” The child’s mother learned something was amiss when she bathed the victim and the girl flinched in pain during the bath.
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 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 Gray. The girl’s mother also testified. The parent is not being identified in order to protect the child’s identity.
Rojas’ sentencing is scheduled for July 28 in front of Conlogue.