District Attorney proposes legislation to protect child victims

Local News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Bernalillo County District Attorney says New Mexico is one of the only states where sexually abused children have to endure more pain because of how they’re questioned during investigations.

“I watched everything about the experience tear her down, mentally, physically,” said Michelle Gurule.

Thursday, a mother spoke for her daughter kidnapped by an accused sexual predator in 2017 at just 12 years old. The family of Rebecca Sanchez, murdered by her father and stepmother, stood by in support, along with a young woman who braved a crowd of strangers to tell her story.

“I was sexually molested when I was 11. It’s been seven years now, I’m 19 years old,” said Ashley Vargas.

Vargas is one of many victims who stood by Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez, asking New Mexico to change the way children of sexual abuse and violent crimes are questioned during investigations.

“Just inflicting so many painful questions over and over…you just basically don’t wanna talk no more,” Vargas said.

DA Torrez played actual recordings, questions asked of the children during investigations.

The question, “Do you know what happens to a man when he gets sexually aroused?” can be heard in one of the recordings.

Vargas said one question vividly stands out in her memory.

“They were asking me what I wore. And I told them I was wearing like tights and like a t-shirt. And they asked me why I was wearing tights to bed. They made it seem like it was my fault,” she said.

Torrez has drafted legislation to put a stop to this line of questioning.

“There is a means of securing justice for people, for providing due process for people without doing harm,” said Raul Torrez.

The bill would prevent defense attorneys and investigators from interrogating children and developmentally delayed adults before trial.

“I absolutely urge the leaders in Santa Fe to listen to victims, to hear them and to understand that we are failing them,” said Torrez.

DA Torrez said the drafted bill has been submitted to the governor, and he is speaking with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to find a sponsor.

The New Mexico Public Defender’s Office responded to the proposal, calling it a “misguided effort to protect people,” and would actually cause more trauma to victims. The full statement is below.

The idea that prosecutors and defense attorneys can find the truth without talking to people is ludicrous. In a misguided effort to protect people, this plan would actually cause more trauma. If trial is the only place questions can be asked, then more cases are going to go to trial. That means more children and victims would have to testify in public in front of many people instead of just having a private pretrial interview. What’s more traumatic, a private interview with a victims advocate and attorneys from both sides or having to tell a story in a public courtroom to attorneys who haven’t had a chance to ask you any questions at all?

Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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