A Peñasco man who admitted at a plea conference in December to raping his girlfriend’s 14-year-old daughter was sentenced to 10 years with the New Mexico Department of Corrections on Monday (May 20).
“You took accountability, which is important,” said Judge Emilio Chavez of Taos District Court, addressing the defendant, 45-year-old James Brown, who pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual penetration against a minor in the third degree in 2018.
As part of the sentence, Chavez recommended Brown undergo rehabilitation while in prison and said he would be registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Brown was originally charged in October 2017 with 12 counts of criminal sexual penetration against a minor. Those charges alleged Brown raped the underage girl multiple times between March 2017 to September 2017 while he dated the teen’s mother.
The mother spoke at the hearing, telling the court that she was “shocked and devastated beyond belief” by Brown’s actions.
She said that Brown had sexually assaulted her teenage daughter as many as 30 times, according to the girl’s ex-boyfriend, who was the first to report the crimes to authorities.
Katherine Duff, a mental health counselor the victim has seen since last year, told the court the young girl had been diagnosed with depression, PTSD and suicidal thoughts.
Though much of what she said was inaudible as she fought back tears before the court, the teenage girl said that Brown had threatened to kill himself if she ever came forward about the abuse.
“I am very sorry for what happened,” Brown said before he was sentenced. “I should have known better.”
Chavez acknowledged Brown for admitting guilt. He said avoiding trial spared the victim the pain and embarrassment of having to testify before “12 strangers” who would have served as a jury.
Evidence gathered through a Children, Youth and Families Department investigation that included forensic evidence that the girl had been raped by Brown, however, likely influenced his decision to take a deal.
John Lovelace, a prosecutor with the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, also noted that Brown took many years to take responsibility for what he described as a pattern of sexual assault against underage girls.
“The defendant entered into his first serious relationship when was 19 with a partner who was 15,” Lovelace said, referencing a probation presentence report. “That led to a ‘common law marriage.’ "
Lovelace said Brown was also charged in a 2015 case for sexually assaulting the daughter of another woman he had been in a relationship with, but the case was dismissed “due to difficulties in getting essential witnesses to cooperate with the state,” he said.
Lovelace asked Chavez to impose the maximum sentence of 12 years carried by the three counts of criminal sexual penetration against a minor Brown pleaded guilty to in December.
Brown’s cousin, Jerome Medina, spoke on his behalf, explaining that he had faced a sexual assault case that prompted him to turn his life around.
Pastor Brian McMath of the Valley Bible Baptist Church in Española said Brown had begun attending church regularly with his children after he was baptized earlier this year.
“He has been very open with me, very remorseful in recognizing wrong and realizing the need for a change in his life,” the pastor told the court.
Brown’s defense attorney based out of Las Vegas, Herman Chico Gallegos, also made an emotional appeal to Chavez, explaining that he himself has three daughters whom he has thought of as he has defended Brown.
Gallegos said Brown has experienced his own trauma after his mother killed herself when he was a toddler and after his son recently drowned.
“How is Mr. Brown going to move forward?” Gallegos asked the judge, reminding him that probation was an option.
But Chavez agreed with Lovelace that prison time was warranted, given Brown’s history of sexual assault against underage women, and the value of sending a message to the wider community about the consequences carried by such crimes.
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