Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
As she sentenced him to 108 years in prison, an Albuquerque judge told Rollie Bruvold that it meant he would likely die there.
“And that is my intention,” state District Judge Jacqueline Flores said at the hearing in 2015, “to have you incarcerated for the rest of your natural life.”
But there’s a chance the 69-year-old convicted child rapist will soon be a free man, thanks to a July opinion by the state Court of Appeals that reversed six of his seven convictions. Appeals Court judges wrote that the vague timeline offered at trial left too much doubt about the victim’s age at the time of each alleged sexual assault. That’s a vital detail, because, by the time Bruvold went to trial, the statute of limitations had elapsed for crimes tied to abuse of a child over 13.
Bruvold is now scheduled to be resentenced Thursday on his sole remaining conviction – criminal sexual penetration of a child under 13, a first-degree felony that carries a sentence of up to 18 years. Because of the complex and drawn-out procedural history of the case, Bruvold has been continually in custody since 2002, his defense attorney said. He could technically be released after the hearing on Thursday, according to attorneys on both sides.
The Court of Appeals ruling comes nearly two decades after prosecutors first indicted Bruvold in a case that alleged disturbing, ongoing sexual abuse against three young female relatives stretching back to the 1980s. Bruvold was only taken to trial and convicted, however, on charges involving the youngest alleged victim regarding abuse that took place between 1992 and 2001.
In the months following the court’s ruling, Bruvold’s alleged victims have been trying to come to terms with the reality that a man they believed they would never see again may soon be on the streets.
“He is a very controlling and manipulative individual who has no idea what boundaries are and has no respect for boundaries at all,” said one of his alleged victims, whose accusations were not taken to trial. “I was relieved to know that he was going to spend the rest of his life in jail away from society and anybody else that he could harm.”
That hearing is a possible end to a case that included a seven-year stay at the state’s Behavioral Health Institute, during which he was deemed competent to stand trial after initially being found incompetent. He then went to trial, was convicted, sentenced and has been in prison for about 4½ years.
Not ‘enough restraint’
Authorities began investigating Bruvold after a family member – one of the three women who alleges abuse by him – walked in and found him in bed with his youngest victim.
Court documents and trial testimony paint Bruvold as a controlling, mentally unwell man who rarely worked due to arthritis and gout. He did not allow his family to wear black, “because of its association with the devil, maybe,” his ex-wife told a jury, and he prohibited her from buying certain products, including anything by Procter and Gamble.
A violation of his rules could send him into a rage, family members said.
The youngest girl said during the trial that Bruvold walked around naked and frequently talked to her about sex. She testified that he began to sexually abuse her when she was 4 or 5 and continued until the relative caught and reported Bruvold in 2002. The young victim said Bruvold told her that what he was doing was normal, and that if she ever told anyone she would be taken to a “concentration camp.”
A third female relative described in a court hearing that she had been abused “if not every day, every other day, maybe or, almost daily, sometimes several times a day.” It began when she was young and ended when she reached puberty. She is one of the two alleged victims whose accusations were not taken to trial and the charges related to them ultimately dismissed.
Bruvold admitted having sexual relations with that youngest child, saying he “didn’t have enough restraint within himself,” had been drinking heavily during that time and suffered from depression, court records show. He also said that he felt “maybe he was wrong, but he didn’t feel like he was a criminal.”
But at a plea hearing prior to trial, Bruvold asserted his innocence. He said he could not accept any agreements, because the case was “based on falsehood,” and he could not “plead guilty to something that never occurred.” He also said the allegations were a “political vendetta,” and that he had been warned “we are going to do this to you, by political fashionists (sic), and, indeed, they’ve carried through their threats.”
After the case wound its way through court for a couple of years, Judge Albert “Pat” Murdoch found Bruvold was not competent to stand trial. Because he was deemed dangerous and because there was sufficient evidence to show he’d committed the crime, Bruvold was remanded to the Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas for 45 years in 2006. As required by state law, every two years the court reviewed his competency status, and he faced the possibility of prosecution if he was found competent to stand trial.
“If some miracle drug is ever found that makes Mr. Bruvold competent, everything would come back into play,” a prosecutor said at a hearing in January 2006.
Whether it was a miracle drug or not, court documents show that, in 2013, based on an evaluation by a psychologist, a judge found “there is no evidence that the defendant may not be competent to proceed in this case” and ordered that the criminal case move forward.
Months after that, the state filed a new case against Bruvold, this one dealing primarily with the alleged crimes against the youngest girl. As he went to trial on those charges in July 2015, prosecutors described crimes against a “perfect victim.”
“She admitted she has a learning disability,” a prosecutor told jurors. “Instead of doing all he could to help her in her condition,
Rollie took advantage of that fact … brainwashing her to believe that his unnatural activities with her were natural and normal.”
In a closing argument, Bruvold’s defense attorney said unanswered questions in the case would make it impossible for jurors to convict his client. He pointed out that the state did not present any evidence that the victim was under the age of 13 when any of the alleged abuse took place.
But after just three hours of deliberations, the jury found Bruvold guilty of all seven counts.
Defense attorneys made the same evidence argument in the appeal: the victim never provided her age or the date when the abuse happened, they said.
“There was no testimony in the trial to place the sexual misconduct within the date of the indictment making this a first-degree felony,” the appeal states.
In an opinion authored by Judge Jacqueline Medina, the Court of Appeals said the victim’s statements that abuse began when she was 4 or 5 would lead a reasonable juror to believe at least one of the rape counts took place before her 13th birthday. That allowed one conviction to stand.
But prosecutors had failed to ask “more probative questions to establish a time frame for each occurrence,” meaning the jury rendered its “verdict based on supposition and conjecture.”
The abuse stopped close to the victim’s 14th birthday, leaving a nearly one-year period during which sexual abuse would have fallen outside of the time frame required for a first-degree felony conviction. That raised the possibility that most of the abuse could have occurred during that period.
Henry Valdez, director of the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys, said children frequently have a difficult time relaying accurate, consistent timelines, which can make these types of cases difficult to prosecute. And because child cases are often reported years after the abuse, it’s rare to have any physical evidence that might help.
Michael Patrick, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, confirmed that prosecutors are looking to relaunch some of the charges against Bruvold, possibly prior to the upcoming sentencing hearing.
Patrick said he was not sure why the remaining charges against Bruvold were dismissed, pointing out that the case was handled by the previous district attorney. However, court documents show the counts were dismissed not long after the guilty verdicts that would lead to Bruvold’s century-long sentence.
The family member who spoke with the Journal said that having to revisit the abuse that plagued her childhood is a horrible prospect. But she says she and the second woman whose allegations were also dismissed are probably willing to cooperate as witnesses if prosecutors decide to file new charges.
“From our standpoint in terms of how dangerous this man is,” she said, “I think we would both stand up and we would both do what we needed to do to make sure that not only we stay safe and our families stay safe but that our community stays safe.”