Sierra Vista Molestation Retrial Postponed Until May

Nathan D. Rojas [Photo by Terri Jo Neff]
A Sierra Vista man granted a new trial more than a year ago on a charge of child molestation must wait another six months before his second trial will start, a Cochise County Superior Court judge announced last week.

Nathan Rojas, 35, was found guilty in July 2018 of one count of sexual conduct with a minor stemming from a 2016 incident involving a five-year-old girl who attended his mother’s daycare. His conviction was overturned few weeks later by Judge Wallace Hoggatt because a video showing the jurors in the courtroom was posted on social media the day before deliberations.

The order for a new trial was put on hold while the Cochise County Attorney’s Office appealed Hoggatt’s decision. They conceded court rules prohibit showing images of jurors but argued to the Arizona Court of Appeals that there was no evidence the jury’s guilty verdict was impacted by the video.

An appellate court opinion upholding Hoggatt’s order became effective in late September. Presiding Judge James Conlogue, who inherited the case when Hoggatt retired, then set a Nov. 5 trial start date, but it had to be cancelled when the original defense attorneys Richard Bock and Jesse Smith withdrew from the case.

Attorneys Rodrigo Andrade and Joshua Jones were recently appointed by the court to represent Rojas. They argued at a Nov. 4 hearing in support of a six-month delay to ensure they had sufficient time to prepare for trial, noting that case records had yet to be obtained from Rojas’ prior counsel.

During the hearing Conlogue rescheduled the trial for May 5, 2020.  However, the Arizona Daily Independent has confirmed that prosecutors Michael Powell and Terisha Driggs have engaged in discussions toward a “non-trial resolution,” also known as a plea deal.

The parties will be back in Conlogue’s court Dec. 16 for a review hearing. In the meantime, Rojas remains in the Cochise County jail in Bisbee in lieu of $200,000 bail. He faces a life sentence if convicted at the new trial.

The video in question was made and posted by David Morgan, the moderator of a Facebook page about Cochise County courts and politics. Hoggatt permitted Morgan to record witness testimony over the objection of the defense and advised jurors to disregard the camera because court rules prohibited dissemination of their images.

The court learned of the video when one juror told several other jurors of being contacted by someone who recognized her on the Facebook posting. Hoggatt determined that many of the jurors were identifiable, either directly or indirectly, which Morgan insisted was unintentional.

The judge initially denied a defense motion for a mistrial, noting he believed the jurors were still able to objectively decide the case. The next day the jury returned a guilty verdict.

Hoggatt later overruled himself based on concerns that the video may have subtly   prejudiced the jurors. The court of appeals deferred to Hoggatt’s discretion, noting some jurors mentioned their unease with being identifiable, while at least one expressed concern about public reaction if the jury acquitted Rojas.