TAOS, N.M. (KRQE) – The couple charged with abusing their adopted son is working out a deal with the Taos County District Attorney’s office. A KRQE Investigation exposed the case against Adrian Vigil and Heidi Velasquez in December 2022 when the Children, Youth & Families Department placed the alleged victim – their adopted son – back in their home before the criminal case against them was closed. This was four months before the two were expected to stand trial for allegedly torturing the boy.
It appeared the Taos County DA and defense attorneys for the couple used that reunification as a reason to give the adoptive parents a lighter sentence. Instead of going to trial in April, they worked out a plea deal.
“This is a remarkable reduction, at least from the original charges,” Hon. Emilio Chavez, 8th Judicial Court Judge, said to the attorneys. He explained the couple was facing up to 45 years in prison, charged with three counts of child abuse.
The Taos County Sheriff’s Office arrested Heidi Velasquez and Adrian Vigil in 2021 on accusations they abused and neglected their newly adopted son over a period of at least six months, leaving him malnourished with multiple broken bones and a head bleed, among numerous other issues.
“We heard from Santa Fe CYFD witnesses that this was one of the worst cases of abuse and neglect that they had witnessed,” Prosecutor Cosme Ripol, with the Taos County DA’s Office, told the judge. He added the doctors and nurses that treated the then-toddler said the same.
Now, two years later, he tried to convince Judge Chavez to avoid trial and go easy on the parents by accepting the plea deal he offered. It could allow them to avoid jail time. The judge asked him to explain why he should agree to what they worked out.
Ripol explained both parents would take responsibility for the abuse. Velasquez would plea to one charge of abandonment of a child. He shared with the judge, “Heidi Velasquez was suffering from unresolved and profound psychological and emotional issues.” Ripol explained that one of the couple’s kids died about 13 years ago, so they adopted the boy to “compensate for the loss.” But, he said, Velasquez’s depression, combined with the boy’s special needs, made it difficult for her to properly care for him. “I want to emphasize this is an explanation,” Ripol said. “It doesn’t justify the neglect, but it explains it.”
In the deal, Vigil would plea to the third-degree felony of child abuse not resulting in great bodily harm. The dad worked two jobs, Ripol explained and was not the boy’s primary caretaker. “The charges against Adrian Vigil were overcharged,” he said. Vigil’s defense attorney agreed. Neither Vigil nor his attorney were in the courtroom for the hearing. Court documents showed Vigil asked to appear virtually from California where he was working.
Ripol added, “Heidi Velasquez and Adrian Vigil have worked very, very, very, very hard to accept responsibility for their for their crimes.” That work was done as part of a custody case that resulted in CYFD placing the boy back in the couple’s home last December.
“You know, justice for this child is not taking his parents, his home, and putting them in jail,” Marissa Crollett told the judge. She is the boy’s court-appointed legal representation. The agreement was not run by her ahead of time, but she did tell Judge Chavez she was in favor of it. “I have never seen parents put the work in to address the issues that led to the child being harmed as these parents have,” she said.
The judge noted their “significant efforts” too, and Velasquez’s attorney argued the boy has grown attached to his adoptive parents since the reunification. So, putting them in prison would punish him more than them. An argument the Taos County Undersheriff said wouldn’t exist if CYFD hadn’t put the boy back in their home in the first place.
“That should not have happened,” Undersheriff Jerry Hogrefe said. “But it did, and they stand on some legal grounds, but I believe that could have been postponed and should have been postponed.”
Hogrefe was Sheriff at the time the Office investigated this case. He told KRQE Investigates that neither he nor the current Sheriff was notified about this hearing or the plea deal until we called. That is unusual, he added. Worried, Hogrefe and Sheriff Steve Miera showed up to voice their concerns about the plea deal.
“When I heard the prosecutor speaking, I was kind of astounded and appalled. The arguments that I heard him making are what I would have expected to have heard from a defense attorney, certainly not our prosecutor,” Hogrefe said. “And I was very disappointed in that.”
He begged the judge to reject the deal. “Yes, perhaps progress has been made with the adoptive parents. The question I ask is why is that? Is it because of guilt of what they’ve done? I would challenge the court to consider that,” he said.
The judge listened. “In the current form, I will not accept the agreements as proposed,” Judge Chavez announced. He also questioned the parents’ motivations to improve and said Vigil was not an innocent bystander, so the parents will get the same plea in a new deal – child abuse resulting in great bodily harm. He told the attorneys and prosecutor he would also consider attempted child abuse, which would lower the charge to a second-degree felony.
“There, again, was no true or what I’ll say accepted explanation for [redacted] injuries,” Judge Chavez explained. “I will tell you in my experience of doing these and seeing some of those pictures [redacted] with no other justifiable explanation, jury might not be as understanding as I believe I’m being under the circumstances,” he added.
“This case certainly justifies prison time,” Hogrefe said. He told KRQE Investigates he worries every day knowing the boy is back in Vigil’s and Velasquez’s home. “I just don’t want to see that child suffer any more at the hands of anyone, but especially at the adoptive parents who we know did what they did.”
The next plea hearing is not scheduled yet. KRQE Investigates will be keeping an eye on the case.
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If a new deal is approved by the judge, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled. The judge told the couple’s defense attorneys he would accept mitigation at that time. Mitigation involves Vigil’s and Velasquez’s attorneys presenting witnesses to argue reduced sentences. The attorneys have previously made a statement to the judge that the boy’s developmental delays and other potential underlying medical issues were not considered by doctors when initially treating him for the abuse. Velasquez’s attorney also claimed before taking the boy to the hospital, the family “had been on their knees, bedridden for days or weeks with COVID.”
A separate civil lawsuit has been filed regarding Vigil and Velasquez. In it, an advocate for the boy said the boy should not have been placed in the couple’s home in the first place. The advocate accused CYFD of missing several red flags before allowing the adoption. The lawsuit includes allegations that Vigil and Velasquez got away with neglecting the boy’s medical and developmental needs because CYFD failed to check in on him enough after the initial placement.