TAOS, N.M. (KRQE) – A Taos County Couple who admitted to abusing their adopted toddler will avoid any time behind bars. Heidi Velasquez and Adrian Vigil faced up to nine years in prison after taking a plea to a much lesser charge in July. It’s a case KRQE has followed since New Mexico’s Children Youth & Families Department placed the young victim back in the couple’s home last December, nine months before the criminal case closed.
At his sentencing, the adoptive father spoke for the first time since the criminal case began. “My wife and I failed him in not fighting harder and not doing more,” Adrian Vigil explained. “When he was hurt, we failed him. Yes, we did.” Vigil admitted to the Judge what went wrong and landed his adopted son in the hospital in February 2021 at two years old. The then-toddler had injuries doctors told investigators were consistent with torture. Getting choked up, Vigil added, “After finding out how, how in bad of shape he was it broke my heart to know that I essentially – that we essentially- had that happen under our watch.”
Vigil and his wife, Heidi Velasquez, pled guilty in July 2023 to the charge of attempted child abuse causing great bodily harm. The second-degree felony is defined as neglect. They faced up to nine years in prison. On their original three felony child abuse charges, the couple could have been sentenced to 45 years in prison. “I know that there may be a need to punish us, but there are ways to do it. Prison is not the place for us,” Vigil told the Judge.
He explained since CYFD placed the boy back in their home in December 2022, they’ve learned more about the special needs boy they adopted. Vigil shared new medical diagnoses which he claims not only caused some of the boy’s injuries because he could not control his movements but also prevented the boy from being able to articulate that he was hurt. Medical information he claims was not made clear at the time of the adoption. “And now we have resources. Now we have help. Now we have a better understanding,” he told the Judge.
The victim, now 4 years old, sat silently with his adoptive siblings in the front row during the three-hour hearing. Vigil told the Judge he started preschool a few weeks ago and is a perfect fit for their family. He shared more than two dozen photos taken over the last few months showing time spent at the zoo, swimming, skating, and camping. “He loves sitting with mom and just being nestled right there in her lap,” Vigil said.
The adoptive father was one of multiple witnesses presented by the defense working to sway the judge’s decision to a sentence of probation for him and his wife. Three mental health professionals told the Judge that prison time for the adoptive parents would harm the boy, explaining it’s in his best interest to stay in their care.
“Last night I probably slept about a half an hour thinking about this case,” Hon. Emilio Chavez of the Taos County District Court told the couple, their attorneys, and the prosecutor. He explained, initially, looking at the evidence photos Vigil and Velasquez belonged in prison. But the Judge said learning about the boy’s health issues and watching the couple make positive improvements throughout the custody case he also presided over changed his mind. “I can’t say exactly what happened, what led to those injuries, but I am convinced that they’re not ever going to happen intentionally or even negligently on your watch,” the Judge said.
Prosecutor Cosme Ripol repeatedly told the judge the District Attorney’s Office was comfortable with the full nine-year sentence for the couple. He even said a jury could have convicted them of their original charge – first-degree child abuse – handing the couple 18 years in prison. But ultimately, he said, from what he also learned, probation was the best option. “If this court grants probation, the state pleads for strict conditions,” Ripol stated.
The Judge agreed. He sentenced Vigil and Velasquez to five years probation with multiple conditions. They include attending CYFD’s annual training to share their case with the attorneys and judges, continuing therapy, and meeting with other parents who land in their situation. If they slip up, the Judge made it clear, the couple will spend time in prison.
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“The imposed sentence giving the zero tolerance that he did, I support that. And we will be vigilant,” Taos County Sheriff Steve Miera said. The Sheriff, who has been vocal about how the case played out and previously pushed for a prison sentence said he supports the judge’s decision. “I learned a little bit more as far as what the Ph.D. had to say. And yes, I walked away a little bit more enlightened.” Enlightened and hopeful, after seeing the young boy for the first time in a while. “I was glad to see that he is in good health,” the Sheriff said.
Sheriff Miera added the legislature should be looking at the shortfalls in this case to help inform changes within CYFD.
We reached out to the state agency to ask if the adopted child will remain with Vigil and Velasquez now that they are convicted felons. While CYFD cannot comment on specific cases, a spokesperson sent us this statement:
Per CYFD policy, if an adoptive parent is charged with a felony from a child abuse crime, they go through the extensive reunification and treatment program, successfully complete that program, and then they are reunified with that child due to successfully completing that program, the child in question would not be removed. The child would only be removed if a new report was filed with SCI (statewide central intake) and the investigators found the environment unsafe for the child or evidence of additional child abuse or neglect.