A state District Court judge on Thursday declared a mistrial after a witness offered prohibited testimony in the case against an Albuquerque father accused of trafficking his now-8-year-old daughter.
James Stewart, 38, is scheduled for retrial in early April on charges including human trafficking, child abuse and promoting prostitution.
In the order declaring the mistrial, Judge Cindy Leos wrote that “the state elicited testimony that was prohibited by the court” under rules of evidence and “specifically addressed” at an earlier hearing. Stewart’s attorney, Stefanie Gulley, indicated that she might make a request to stop a second trial because it was necessary only “through the action of the prosecutor.”
The defense request for a mistrial was lodged late Wednesday following testimony by the girl’s grandmother Guanda Kenney, who spoke about the family’s ties to Cornelius Galloway.
Galloway is facing federal allegations that he led a criminal sex trafficking ring that was tied to two homicides. At an earlier hearing, Leos told attorneys that witnesses were not to mention his pending case.
Responding to questions by prosecutor Brittany DuChaussee, Kenney said that when her granddaughter lived with her for a period of time, Stewart would periodically pick her up and take her to play with Galloway’s daughter. She said Stewart helped Galloway, or “Uncle Chip,” by feeding his dogs, cleaning their pens and acting as a lookout.
“When he was a lookout, what was he looking out for?” DuChaussee asked.
“The police,” Kenney said.
“Why was he looking out for the police for Uncle Chip?” DuChaussee asked.
“Because of human trafficking,” Kenney said.
At a hearing last week, Leos told attorneys that testimony regarding “anything the defendant exposed his daughter to with Uncle Chip” was relevant, but she said whether Stewart was involved in being a lookout for Galloway was irrelevant, because it was not linked to his daughter.
Gulley said it was “propensity evidence” that was irrelevant and highly prejudicial.
DuChaussee said she did not intentionally violate the court’s order, and thought Kenney was going to describe the conduct that she saw along with earlier conversations with Stewart. DuChaussee said Kenney had, in a previous interview, said Stewart helped Galloway recruit girls, and that her granddaughter once had reddened genitals after going to Galloway’s home.
But Kenney’s testimony on Wednesday was that she noticed the redness after the girl had been playing outside with other kids.
Leos said that when people take the stand, they sometimes say things that are unexpected, so lawyers need to be cautious as they approach potentially inflammatory testimony.
“You make sure that you’re not going to make a mistake in trial that, in a circumstance like this, is having, frankly, terrible results,” she said. “Because I am going to declare a mistrial. We’re going to require (the child) to testify again, and it’s something I don’t take lightly at all, to put that little girl through that again.”
In a statement, Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose office is prosecuting the case, said the “judicial system must allow this brave 8-year-old survivor a right to be heard and a right to seek justice.”