By Sarah Welsh
SUN Assistant News Editor
A criminal case against former Española city councilor J. Patrick Trujillo has been dropped because the state discovered that the deadline for prosecution had already passed, District Attorney Henry Valdez confirmed Tuesday.
"Under any of the scenarios of potential charges, the statute of limitations would have run," Valdez said.
The news came as a surprise to Española Police, who just last week confirmed their investigation of Trujillo for alleged sexual misconduct involving minors during the 1990s. The case was picked up by the district attorney's office and was scheduled to go before a grand jury Wednesday (4/2), Española Police Sgt. Christian Lopez said.
Lopez learned Monday that his investigation, which was first opened in 2005, had stalled. Española Public Safety Chief Julian Gonzales said he and Lopez are both "miffed" that the case was dropped.
"Why we were going from zero to 60, back to zero, I can't tell you," Gonzales said. "I don't know."
Valdez, who agreed to comment only because the case had already been publicly disclosed by police, said proceedings are supposed to stay secret prior to charges being filed, precisely because sudden changes may occur.
"There's lots of cases that may or may not be scheduled for grand jury, that may be presented, for a number of reasons," Valdez said. "And that's why they're secret."
Valdez firmly denied that his office was under any political pressure to either prosecute or drop the case.
"In fact, I really hadn't spoken to anybody about this case until very, very recently," Valdez said. "There was absolutely no pressure or inquiry (of) any kind, of one way or the other."
Trujillo expressed relief at the outcome.
"I'm happy to hear that the grand jury target notice has been withdrawn and that the prosecution has been dropped," Trujillo said. "I hope that this will at least in part restore my good reputation, which I built on my long good work and concern for this community."
Last week Trujillo resigned from his position as Española Military Academy Board president. Board Vice President Joe Duran and Academy Principal Steven Baca both said the Board hadn't met to formally accept his request. Baca said he anticipates that Trujillo will return as Board president.
Asked about his status as the Academy, Trujillo said it was too soon to say.
"I haven't gotten that far," Trujillo said. "I'm trying to piece my life back together."
Time Runs Out
Valdez said it took time for his office to discover the time-limit issue because they were considering different charges which would have varying deadlines for prosecution. Although Valdez would not confirm the nature of Trujillo's case, he used child-abuse cases and sex cases involving minors as examples of differing legal rules.
"Particularly with child abuse cases, there's different scenarios when the statute (of limitations) begins to run," Valdez said. "It's not like other crimes (which is) just generally the date of the crime — the statute of limitations on sex cases involving minors, or abuse cases involving minors, has different rules."
According to state law, the time limit for prosecuting child abuse and molestation doesn't begin running when the crime is committed. Rather, it begins when the victim turns 18 or the incident is reported to police — whichever occurs first. From that point on, prosecutors are subject to standard statutes of limitations — six years for a second-degree felony, five years for a third-degree felony, and so on.
Valdez said all the scenarios considered by prosecutors had limitations expiring in October 2007 or earlier.
Lopez said he was told the statute of limitations in this case involved a third-degree felony — whose limit runs out after five years. Therefore, the state would have to bring formal charges by the time an alleged victim turned 23. If the crime rose to a more serious second-degree felony, the state would have just one additional year to launch prosecution. After that, no one can be prosecuted for the crime.
"It's too bad," Lopez said. "Knowing what I know about the case, I just feel bad for the (alleged) victims."
Lopez said he had originally been told the deadline for prosecution wouldn't pass until summertime, making an April grand jury date well within the limit.
"I didn't think there was a need for concern," Lopez said.