SIERRA VISTA – A Sierra Vista man sitting in jail nearly 19 months while awaiting a new trial will remain in custody several more months, after a judge ruled the man’s court-appointed attorney failed to satisfy court rules when asking for a bail reduction.
Nathan D. Rojas is scheduled to stand trial in May for allegedly molesting a five-year-old after taking the girl from a daycare run by his mother. He has been in the Cochise County jail since July 2018 after a jury convicted him of one count of sexual conduct with a minor, a verdict the trial judge tossed out a month later when he granted Rojas a new trial.
Rojas, 33, has told the court he has a promise of employment and a place to live, but says he can’t afford to post $200,000 bail to get out of jail. He hoped a motion filed last month by defense attorney Rodrigo Andrade would lead to a bail reduction or a third-party custodial release.
However, the Cochise County Attorney’s Office opposed the motion, noting a high bail was set by the trial judge for several reasons, and that court rules limit modifications to pre-trial release conditions. Prosecutor Michael Powell also argued Andrade’s motion “was simply reasserting claims” on Rojas’ behalf that were previously considered in 2018.
Presiding Judge James Conlogue agreed, and on Jan. 28 he denied Rojas’ request without conducting a hearing. The judge’s order notes the motion did not allege any “material facts not previously presented to the court.”
Court records show Rojas’ conviction in the first trial was overturned in August 2018 due to a video taken inside the courtroom. Judge Wallace Hoggatt had granted permission to the moderator of a Facebook page about Cochise County courts to record some of the witness testimony. The camera was aimed at the witness stand but it also captured the jurors as they listened to the testimony.
Under court rules, cameras in the courtroom must be placed in a position “to avoid showing jurors in any manner.”
The judge learned of the issue on the day scheduled for closing arguments when one juror reported receiving comments from a friend who recognized her in the video. The juror also discussed the issue in the jury room.
Hoggatt initially denied a defense motion for a mistrial after he questioned each juror and believed they wouldn’t be impacted by the video, which he ordered removed from Facebook. The next day the jury returned a guilty verdict on the sole felony charge against Rojas, finding he tried to insert an adult sex toy into the girl’s anus while she was in his house.
However, a month later Hoggatt overruled his mistrial decision after reconsidering the “inadvertent” effect the video may have had on the jurors.
The new trial was put on hold after Powell appealed the judge’s order. In August 2019, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed Hoggatt’s decision, noting that when questioned at the time, some jurors expressed unease with being identifiable and others were concerned about public reaction if they acquitted Rojas.
In late October 2019, Andrade was assigned to represent Rojas. The parties will in court Feb. 18 for pre-trial status conference in advance of an expected two-week trial starting May 5.
Andrade has suggested he may need more time to prepare, as it took several weeks for the case files to be obtained from Rojas’ original attorneys. He is also looking for a DNA expert to testify at trial, something that wasn’t done by the defense at the first trial.