July 24 – A man accused of molesting four children pleaded guilty on Monday to trespassing on one of them while working as a health aide at Gonzales Community School, where the child was a student.
Robert Apodaca pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual contact with a child under the age of 13, although prosecutor Haley Murphy told the court that the child, then 12, reported that Apodaca assaulted him as many as 100 times between 2018 and 2019, including during car rides the two continued together and in an office at the school.
Apodaca pleaded guilty without a negotiated agreement with the prosecutor. The court may, at its discretion, sentence him to prison terms of between three and 45 years.
He is sent to a state prison in Los Lunas for a 60-day diagnostic evaluation before sentencing.
Apodaca — also a former employee of Santo Niño Regional Catholic School in Santa Fe — broke down at his hearing, telling state district judge Mary Marlowe Sommer that he felt bad for betraying the trust of the child and his family, who had been members of his church branch.
“I know I did wrong,” he said. “It’s hard for me to fathom what I did, and what I did was unforgivable. … I allowed my imperfections, my past, to cause me to hurt someone I loved to spend time with and his family. I allowed myself to indulge in inappropriate thoughts and was not someone I should have been. I should have been there for him. I should have helped him through problems, but chose to focus on myself; that hurts me the most, and I hurt my congregation done.”
Sommer raised the issue of Apodaca’s jurisdiction to stand trial in May after saying at a status conference that he wanted to plead guilty to the charges in this case, but not to other cases pending against him.
Apodaca’s attorney, public defender Julita Leavell, said at the time that 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 stems from what he thinks he should be doing as a Jehovah’s Witness.”
Sommer agreed to hold a hearing for the plea after prosecutors and lawyers determined at a subsequent hearing that he was competent.
The judge previously rejected two plea deals, including one that would have resolved all cases against Apodaca and freed Sommer to sentence him to between the ages of 18 and 30.
Sommer rejected the first plea in December after the victims objected, in part they say because it would have allowed him to plead not guilty instead of pleading guilty. The judge declined to accept another plea in January – the terms of which were not on the record – after Apodaca said he had not had time to fully discuss his potential defenses with his lawyer.
The prosecution dismissed one of four cases filed against Apodaca in December, “pending further investigation.”
Two others appear headed for trial, with jury selection set to take place in September.