SIERRA VISTA — A man twice convicted of sexually abusing a 5-year-old girl could spend the rest of his life in prison, a superior court judge ruled Thursday.
Nathan Rojas, 34, must serve at least 35 years of a life sentence before he is eligible for release, Cochise County Superior Judge James Conlogue said.
Rojas was retried earlier this month and found guilty of the same offense — sexual conduct with a minor.
A jury initially convicted the former Army sergeant 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.
Conlogue asked Rojas on Thursday morning if he wanted to say anything, who responded by thanking the judge and his attorney Rodrigo Andrade for all their work. Andrade, with the county’s Office of the Legal Advocate, had filed a motion for a third trial and acquittal of his client, but the judge denied it.
In addition, post-conviction documents filed by the prosecution and an affidavit filed by a courtroom clerk in the case, mention that the defense asserted that the selection of alternate jurors was racially motivated.
Assistant Cochise County Attorney Michael Powell said in an email Thursday that he could not comment on the issue, but in a notice of filing affidavit to Conlogue, Powell wrote: “It has come to the State’s attention that the Defense believes the random selection of alternate jurors was racially motivated. The State is filing the attached Affidavit to quell this issue.”
The affidavit was a statement by courtroom clerk Jennifer Anderson regarding how alternate jurors are chosen: “I am a courtroom clerk with the Cochise County Superior Court. I was assigned to serve as the courtroom clerk during the trial in this case 3,” the affidavit states.
“All jurors were designated by number. Throughout the trial, jurors were only referred to by their number. On July 17, 2020, I was assigned to randomly select two jurors to serve as alternate jurors.”
To randomly select the alternates, all juror numbers were contained in a manila envelope. I randomly selected two numbers from inside the manila envelope. I did not know the jurors assigned to the numbers drawn. I did not look inside the envelope to make my selections. The alternate jurors were selected without regard to race or gender.
“I had no way of knowing which jurors would be selected as the alternates. This method of selection has been utilized for all jury trials in Cochise County Superior Court,” the affidavit said.
Andrade did not return a call to the Herald/Review for comment on Thursday.
Rojas’ second conviction was delivered by a 12-member jury on July 17. Rojas testified that he would never hurt a child and that he has children of his own. He said he was a law-abiding citizen.
The youngster he molested attended a daycare that Rojas’ mother operated from her Sierra Vista residence. Rojas lived a few doors down and on Aug. 25, 2016, he took the girl to his home and assaulted her in his bedroom.
The youngster, now 9, testified in the latest trial that Rojas told her they were going to his house to get some snacks for the daycare. She recalled the pain she was left with after the attack occurred.
Thursday morning, the girl’s father, acting as the victim’s representative, spoke briefly in court. The father is not being named so that the child’s identity is not revealed.
“...”It’s been a big change in our lives, and I pray we can move forward,” he said.