TAOS, N.M. (KRQE) – The Taos County Sheriff called it one of the worst cases of child abuse he has seen. In February 2021, a brain bleed, multiple broken bones, and malnourishment hospitalized a one-and-a-half-year-old boy. A month later, his adoptive parents, Adrian Vigil, and Heidi Velasquez, were charged with three counts of child abuse.
With their criminal case still open, the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department placed the boy back in the couple’s home seven months ago. A KRQE Investigation revealed that decision in December. Now, seven months later, the accused couple reached a deal with the District Attorney’s Office, lowering their maximum penalty from 45 years in prison to 9 years. A sentence of probation is also still a possibility.
Vigil and Velasquez pled guilty Monday to the reduced charge of attempted child abuse causing great bodily harm. As part of the deal, their two other charges were dropped.
Both of them appeared hesitant, taking their time as they admitted through tears to causing serious injuries to the boy they adopted three years ago. He joined their family in June 2020. Eight months after that, their criminal case began.
“Do you understand you are giving up your right to be presumed innocent?” Hon. Emilio Chavez, of the 8th Judicial Court, asked Velasquez. When she didn’t immediately reply, he asked again, “Do you understand that?” “Yessir,” Velasquez said.
This guilty plea to a second-degree felony is the only deal the Judge would accept. He rejected their first agreement earlier this year, in April. “There again was no true or what I’ll say accepted explanation for [redacted] injuries,” he explained. “I will tell you in my experience of doing these and seeing some of those pictures… with no other justifiable explanation, jury might not be as understanding as I believe I’m being under the circumstances.”
Before approving the new deal, Judge Chavez confirmed with Prosecutor Cosme Ripol that the couple’s lack of criminal history and “positive rehabilitation” since their arrests are why it was offered. That “positive rehabilitation” is also why the boy is living with them again. A separate custody case resulted in CYFD placing the victim back in their home in December.
Velasquez’s defense attorney, James Mamalis, told KRQE he saw the boy three weeks ago. “I think he’s doing great. He’s happy, he’s playful, he’s smiles. He has great attachment for Heidi,” he explained. Mamalis previously argued this attachment is why his client shouldn’t face prison time.
“What we have disputed all along is that, Heidi, or Adrian did anything cruel to this child,” he said. “This is a family that’s gone above and beyond to make things right and to do right by this child whom they very much love and who very much loves them.”
This plea deal does not come with a sentencing agreement. Their penalty will be up to the Judge. He could hand Vigil and Velasquez probation or up to 9 years in prison. The Sheriff is asking for the maximum.
“I will be meeting with the DA’s office and emphatically making a statement as to the need for the full exposure of the full nine years,” Sheriff Steve Miera said. Since April’s failed plea hearing, his Office brought new evidence to the prosecutor. The boy’s first foster Mom, Audrena Apadaca, finally got in contact with investigators. She had been wanting to share videos of the boy recorded shortly before Vigil and Velalsquez adopted him. KRQE shared some of those videos in our December investigation when we first introduced Apadaca.
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Prosecutor Ripol told the Judge he received the videos last month. They show the child crawling, climbing, and even walking. “Healthy, exuberant, moving in an age-appropriate manner,” Ripol explained to Judge Chavez. The new evidence seems to muddy the couple’s initial defense when they claimed the boy was not reaching developmental milestones on time and was actually hurting himself.
“If he did not have a typical response to pain or an ability to express that he was in pain, certain behaviors of banging his head,” Mamalis said. “And, it’s really scary. This child needed a lot of care. And I don’t think that Heidi or Adrian had any idea how much care.” Mamalis argued that when the couple realized the care their adopted son needed, they got it for him. They were the ones who brought him to the hospital. “All of their actions ever since, ever since the child went to the hospital and this case began, have shown their commitment to the safety and well-being of all of their children,” Mamalis said. “And I really salute them. And that’s the story that I feel hasn’t been told, is how conscientious and loving these people are.”
Sheriff Miera still questions their motivations for change. “When the one person that is supposed to be your guardian and your savior is the one that hurts you, that’s probably the most egregious violation of that trust,” he said.
Vigil and Velasquez are not expected to learn their sentence for another 60 to 70 days. Mamalis asked for extra time because he plans to bring multiple witnesses to influence Judge Chavez’s final decision on their punishment. If the couple goes to prison, it’s unclear at this point where the state will place their adopted son.