Mistrial declared in kidnapping case
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.