Mis­trial de­clared in kid­nap­ping case

The Taos News - - FRONT PAGE - By John Miller jmiller@taos­news.com The Taos News

Taos Dis­trict Court Judge Sarah Backus de­clared a mis­trial for a 2017 kid­nap­ping case Wednes­day (Oct. 31), find­ing that crit­i­cal ev­i­dence was not dis­closed un­til the trial was al­ready un­der­way.

The court pro­ceed­ings were to de­cide whether Cris­tian Orozco, a 22-year-old Es­pañola man, had kid­napped his ex-girl­friend, a ju­ve­nile, from her grand­par­ents Peñasco home on Feb. 25, 2017.

Orozco was charged with nine felonies: kid­nap­ping, ag­gra­vated bur­glary, ag­gra­vated bat­tery, armed rob­bery, abuse of a child, two counts of false im­pris­on­ment and two counts of ag­gra­vated as­sault.

Ben Mon­dragon, Orozco’s at­tor­ney based out of Las Ve­gas, filed a mo­tion for a mis­trial Wednes­day morn­ing, ar­gu­ing that it was only af­ter the first day of trial that Tim Has­son, a pros­e­cu­tor with the 8th Ju­di­cial Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, had pro­vided him with a re­port of records col­lected from the mi­nor’s cell phone.

Has­son said the records had been han­dled by a Taos County

sher­iff’s de­tec­tive who had since re­tired and taken a job at an­other agency. Has­son ac­knowl­edged that the ev­i­dence should have been pro­vided ear­lier, but said there wasn’t enough time to do so be­fore the trial be­gan.

The case was ap­proach­ing the two-year mark, and with Orozco still held in jail, the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice faced ad­di­tional pres­sure to go to trial.

Backus said she didn’t fault the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice for the late ev­i­dence, but said the de­fen­dant could not get a fair trial in light of its late re­ceipt.

Mon­dragon said the ev­i­dence could have been vi­tal to his client’s de­fense.

He said the ev­i­dence could clar­ify whether the teen had com­mu­ni­cated with Orozco around the time of the in­ci­dent, and cru­cially, whether she had in­vited him to the lo­ca­tion where the crime is said to have taken place.

The girl’s grand­par­ents told law en­force­ment that Orozco was armed with a hand­gun when he forced his way into their home and had as­saulted them be­fore flee­ing with their grand­daugh­ter.

The en­su­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion sug­gested the girl had con­tacted her fa­ther dur­ing the kid­nap­ping to tell him she was not in dan­ger, an­other de­tail Mon­dragon be­lieved might be re­flected in the phone records.

The in­ci­dent came to an end swiftly when po­lice sur­rounded a home where Orozco and the mi­nor were stay­ing in Es­pañola, ar­rest­ing Orozco and tak­ing the girl into cus­tody.

While the teen was found safe, she had bruises and other mark­ings on her body, in­clud­ing a hickey on the side of her neck.

While she told the court dur­ing the first day of trial Tues­day (Oct. 30) that she had been in a re­la­tion­ship with Orozco some months prior to the in­ci­dent, she said the mark­ing on her neck was from an­other per­son she was dat­ing at the time.

Her tes­ti­mony also re­vealed that she and Orozco had vis­ited an Es­pañola casino the night she was taken. They later at­tended a gath­er­ing at the res­i­dence where law en­force­ment found them the next morn­ing. At one point, she said, Orozco kissed her.

Re­count­ing the in­ci­dent, she said she was sur­rounded by other peo­ple at cer­tain points dur­ing the or­deal. At other times, she said she was sep­a­rated from Orozco, but made no at­tempt to flee.

When Mon­dragon asked why she didn’t try to es­cape, she said she was afraid of ret­ri­bu­tion by Orozco. At other points, how­ever, she said she didn’t feel in dan­ger once she re­al­ized it was her ex-boyfriend who had kid­napped her.

Both law en­force­ment, and later Mon­dragon, would ques­tion the state of her re­la­tion­ship with Orozco around the time of the in­ci­dent. Mon­dragon teased out cer­tain de­tails in her story that seemed to have changed from one po­lice in­ter­view to the next.

Her tes­ti­mony was halted early on, how­ever, by at least one in­ter­rup­tion from Orozco, whose out­bursts prompted Judge Backus to call for a re­cess, al­low­ing the 22-yearold time to calm down and dis­cuss with Mon­dragon how to pro­ceed.

Among their op­tions was a plea agree­ment from the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice that had been on the ta­ble for sev­eral months. Nei­ther party would dis­close the de­tails of the agree­ment as of press time, how­ever.

When they re­turned to the court­room, Mon­dragon said Orozco would not say whether he would ac­cept the deal.

Be­fore the trial re­sumed on Tues­day, Backus re­minded the de­fen­dant that sim­i­lar flare-ups be­fore a jury could prove dam­ag­ing to his de­fense.

Ar­gu­ing for the mis­trial on Wednes­day, Mon­dragon added there would likely be no way for the jury to sep­a­rate Orozco’s court­room be­hav­ior from the facts pre­sented dur­ing trial.

Both he and Has­son agreed that tes­ti­mony from New Mex­ico State Po­lice Agent Jesse Whit­taker on Tues­day had also tainted the trial process. The agent quoted state­ments the girl had made re­gard­ing the de­fen­dant’s char­ac­ter, say­ing Orozco was “a nice guy” who dealt with “anger is­sues.”

Al­though char­ac­ter ev­i­dence is some­times al­lowed at trial, the at­tor­neys agreed that its in­tro­duc­tion by the agent was in­ap­pro­pri­ate un­der the cir­cum­stances and would fur­ther dis­tract the jury from the facts.

The dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice has the op­tion to seek a re­trial of the case.

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