Taos judge releases accused child molester to relative with 10 kids

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 2/12/19

Victim statements, witness interviews and nurse examinations formed the basis of a slew of child abuse charges filed against Raymond Hernandez last month, but on …

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Taos judge releases accused child molester to relative with 10 kids

Posted

Updated Feb. 14 at 10:50 a.m.

Victim statements, witness interviews and medical examinations formed the basis for several child sexual abuse charges filed against Raymond Hernandez last month, but on Tuesday (Feb. 12), a Taos judge ruled to release the 29-year-old back into his sister’s home in Questa, where 10 children also reside.

“I am concerned that there are children in the home,” Taos District Court Judge Jeff McElroy  told the court. “But these are children that he has had contact with his entire life and there are no allegations of any misconduct.”

Hernandez was first released into the sister’s home on Jan. 15, the day after he was arrested for allegedly molesting his teenage stepdaughter and battering another teenage girl who had come to his girlfriend’s home in Peñasco for a sleepover the night of Jan. 11.

He was charged with one count of criminal sexual contact of a minor, one count of battery and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

A grand jury in Taos reviewed the evidence in the case and indicted Hernandez on the charges Jan. 31, determining there was enough evidence to support the charges.

After the initial case was filed, Hernandez was also charged with raping a 19-month-old girl at the same Peñasco residence and a 6-year-old girl who lives at a neighbor’s house nearby. Those cases were later dismissed by the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, however, and may be presented to a grand jury at some point in the future.

The serial nature of the case filings, combined with an ambiguous timeline of the alleged crimes, gave an initial impression that Hernandez had allegedly raped the children after he was first released. The DA’s office has since clarified that all of the alleged crimes took place before Hernandez’s initial arrest on Jan. 14.

In ruling to release him, McElroy emphasized Hernandez’s constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“Staying in jail until trial is a pretty onerous deprivation of one’s liberty rights prior to being convicted,” the judge said.

He noted that Hernandez does not have an extensive criminal history, and in spite of the indictment, said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove he was either a danger to the community or a flight risk.

“I’ve heard nothing other than the fact that there are these allegations, and the fact that they’re serious allegations,” McElroy said.

He released Hernandez to his sister on a $10,000 unsecured appearance bond and ordered him to remain on house arrest. He also said that all contact with children at the home and elsewhere must be supervised by another adult.

Hernandez’s sister testified on Tuesday that workers with the New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department interviewed her children earlier this week. She claimed that her children told the workers they all felt safe around Hernandez.

None of the workers who conducted the interviews with her children, however, were called on Tuesday to corroborate the claim.

Hernandez’s defense attorney, Alan Maestas, later said that he wasn’t made aware that the children had been interviewed until 30 minutes before the hearing began. It was also unclear what documentation either attorney had received from CYFD confirming the interviews had taken place or how the children had responded to questions.

Hernandez’s sister told the court on Tuesday that she had put up her family’s 10-acre property in Questa as collateral just to cover the cost of hiring Maestas, a defense attorney known for his ability to dismantle tough cases presented by the state.

After Hernandez was first released, his sister said she had acted as a kind of chaperone for her brother, never leaving his side, she said, for fear that someone tuned into the extensive media coverage the case has received would accuse him of another crime.

She believes the allegations levied at her brother are baseless, and described him as a family-oriented man who had a positive impact on her family.

“He helped me raise my kids,” she said. “He’s helped me with them since they were babies.”

But Tim Hasson, a prosecutor with the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, reminded the court on Tuesday that evidence existed to indicate Hernandez might be a danger to children, and argued there was sufficient reason to keep him in jail.

“There is evidence that sexual abuse has taken place and the evidence points to the defendant as the person who committed those acts,” Hasson said. “Two teenage children specifically accused him [Hernandez] of sexual misconduct.”

That evidence is recorded in statements of probable cause, with at least one of the alleged victims saying Hernandez had reclined at the end of the bed where they were sleeping together early the morning of Jan. 12. One of them said she awoke to find herself partly undressed and with Hernandez on top of her. The other said she got up and left the room when Hernandez started rubbing her leg.

But Maestas said there were discrepancies in the victims’ statements. Sometimes, he said, the girls indicated they had been touched by Hernandez, and at other times, he noted that their statements suggested there was no physical contact.

Maestas went so far as to suggest the sheriff’s officers who conducted the investigations had perjured the charging documents filed in Hernandez’s case.

Judge McElroy turned down an alternative to house Hernandez with his mother at her home in San Luis, Colorado, near the state border. The woman was also present for the hearing and told the court that no children live with her in the home.

But McElroy noted that housing the defendant out of state might create additional complications. He said the testimony from Hernandez’s sister assured him that no other issues were likely to arise if the defendant was housed in a home where children also live.

Hernandez is scheduled to appear next in court for a scheduling hearing on March 11.

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