Judge refuses to set plea hearing for accused child molester, orders mental evaluation | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

May 11—A state district judge refused to set a plea hearing for an accused child molester Thursday, instead ordering a mental evaluation after Robert Apodaca tried to plead guilty to charges which would have exposed him to 45 years in prison.

Apodaca told Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer during a status conference he wished to plead guilty to sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy who was a student at Gonzales Community School — one of several public schools in the city where he had worked as a health aide between 2012 and 2020 — without any agreement with or concessions from prosecutors.

The boy — who is a member of the same local Jehovah’s Witness congregation as Apodaca — told police Apodaca reached into his pants and grabbed his genitals “approximately 100 times” over the course of about a year in Apodaca’s car, a home and in the nurse’s office at the school.

Apodaca — who also worked at Santo Niño Regional Catholic School — teared up Monday when he told the judge he wanted to “make it correct with the family and not drag them into court.” He is facing charges in four separate cases.

“I just wanted to clear this one up specifically,” Apodaca said. “Not the other ones.”

After confirming with Deputy District Attorney Haley Murphy that a plea to the three felony counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor would expose Apodaca to 45 year in prison — of which he would have to serve at least 85% — the judge asked Apodaca if wanted to proceed knowing that was the possible outcome.

“I don’t want to bring you in here and then you equivocate,” the judge said. “Now is the time to be really clear.”

“Is it between that range?” Apodaca asked.

“No, it’s 45 years,” the judge said. “I’d have to look for mitigating circumstances …”

“In my heart …” Apodaca began.

The judge interrupted him.

“I’m asking you a straight question. I will look for mitigating circumstances, but if I don’t find them, that’s what it is,” she said. “It sounds like you are still equivocating.”

After asking what equivocating meant and receiving an explanation, Apodaca repeated his desire to plead guilty.

“That’s right, your honor,” he said. “I am afraid, but like I said with this family, I hurt them and I’m friends with them and I made a mistake. Yes, I am unsure because I am afraid, but I feel in my heart this is the right thing to do, so if it is 45 years, then it’s 45 years.”

Sommer asked if mental competency had been raised in the case.

“Well, the court is going to raise it right now,” she said after being told it hadn’t. “Because I’m really concerned about the number of years. I just want to make sure he’s competent to stand trial.”

Public defender Julita Leavell said this particular case was meaningful to Apodaca because it involved a member of his congregation.

“His motivation here is very much tied to his congregation and his place within that congregation and his relationship with God,” Leavell said.

“I don’t think it’s a competency issue,” she continued. “A lot of this is coming from what he thinks he needs to do as a Jehovah’s Witness.”

Apodaca nodded as his lawyer addressed the court. However, Sommer ordered an expedited competency evaluation and said she would not set a plea hearing in the case until the evaluation was returned.

“I want to make sure he understands his rights at trial,” she said.

The judge has already rejected two plea agreements, including one which would have resolved all the cases against Apodaca and given Sommer discretion to sentence him to between 18 and 30 years.

Sommer rejected the first plea in December after victims objected, in part, they said, because it would have allowed him to plead no contest instead of guilty. She refused to accept another plea in January — the terms of which were not put on the record — after Apodaca said he hadn’t had time to fully discuss his possible defenses with his attorney.

Earlier this month, an attorney representing one of Apodaca’s four accusers filed a motion telling the court the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges related to his client days after his mother objected to the plea agreement, which would have resulted in the dismissal of his claims, and is making access to the teenager’s protected mental health records a condition for refiling them.

The state never interviewed his client, who is the only one of the accusers who says Apodaca raped him, or asked for the records prior to dismissing the case “pending further investigation” according to the motion.

The District Attorney’s Office has not filed a response and declined to comment Thursday.

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