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Child abuse suspects to stay in jail

Teri Sanchez, 37, and James Stewart, 37, are seen arriving in court for the beginning of their pre-trial detention hearing last Friday. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Finding that they had shown a “complete disregard” for the well-being of a 7-year-old girl and her two siblings, an Albuquerque judge on Tuesday ruled that Teri Sanchez and James Stewart will remain in jail as they await trial.

State District Judge Alisa Hart’s decision came after an hourslong hearing spread over three days, during which the state Attorney General’s Office sought to prove that Sanchez and Stewart pose such a danger to the community that they should be detained.

“The alleged offenses against James Stewart are so morally reprehensible it brings into question defendant Stewart’s willingness or capability to follow the most basic mores,” Hart said.

Stewart is charged with human trafficking, promoting prostitution, criminal sexual contact of a minor and other crimes, while Sanchez is charged with child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Public safety assessments recommended releasing both defendants. In Sanchez’s case, with no conditions of release, and in Stewart’s case, with medium-level court-ordered supervision. Those assessments are based largely on past convictions and pending criminal cases.

Hart disagreed with the assessments and said that the control Stewart exerted over Sanchez, whom one witness said has been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome and has an extremely low IQ, between 65 and 68, was among the reasons she felt Sanchez must also stay in custody.

“It’s my belief that Mr. Stewart controls Ms. Sanchez,” Hart said. “And if she is released and he is detained, I still believe that he will have control over her, he will have a means to gain access and influence over the children.”

Public defender Douglas Wilber argued that Sanchez belongs in treatment and said the judge’s decision was a disappointment. Craig Acorn, who is also representing Sanchez, said after the hearing that his client is a “victim of these circumstances” who doesn’t belong behind bars.

“Locking up a person in a cage doesn’t help anybody, and it especially doesn’t help anybody who is as disabled as Ms. Sanchez is. I think it just makes them much, much worse,” Acorn said. “… I think it’s barbaric.”

Stewart’s defense attorney, Stephanie Gulley, questioned who was in danger if he was released, and she argued that the case was a political move by Attorney General Hector Balderas. She said Stewart had previously performed well on probation, and if released would stay out of trouble and find work. The alleged crimes were “atrocious on paper,” but some court documents in the case contained “major flaws,” she said.

All three children are now in the custody of the state Children, Youth and Families Department.

Before announcing her decision, Hart read a list of concerning allegations recounted by witnesses.

A teacher said the 7-year-old girl came to school in bloodstained underwear, and another school staff member said she had hickeys on her neck and chest. Sanchez hit the girl in the face, used her to panhandle and dressed her up for “secret parties with strippers,” Hart said, summarizing testimony. And Stewart, she said, again summarizing testimony, had forced the child to “touch his friends in a sexual manner in exchange for drugs and paraphernalia,” and touched her in a way that made her uncomfortable.

Prosecutors say the couple had ties to Cornelius Galloway, who is facing federal trafficking charges.

“(She) is so familiar with this man, she calls him Uncle Chip,” Hart said of the 7-year-old girl.

During closing arguments, prosecutors recounted witness statements that Sanchez and Stewart allowed the girl to stay with Galloway for “days at a time,” and she returned from those visits with swollen genitals.

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