Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
A man convicted in 2019 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for forcing his children to beg for money to fund his drug habit had six years added to his sentence this week after he pleaded guilty to seven counts of child abuse.
James Stewart, 41, was convicted by a jury in 2019 of three counts of human trafficking for crimes a District Court judge described as “incredible and horrendous neglect.”
Witnesses at his trial testified that Stewart abused three children in his household, including a stepson and two younger biological children.
At trial, Stewart’s teenage stepson testified that he, his mother and younger siblings panhandled for hours most days, often while Stewart sat in a car.
This week, 2nd Judicial District Judge Cindy Leos accepted Stewart’s guilty plea to seven counts of child abuse, said Collin Brennan, an assistant attorney general.
Leos sentenced Stewart to 21 years in prison, with all but six years to run concurrent with his existing 20-year sentence, Brennan said. The new sentence extends Stewart’s total prison term to 26 years.
Stewart first came to the attention of the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office in November 2017 when teachers at Lew Wallace Elementary School reported that his daughter, then 7, showed signs of abuse.
The AG’s office had recently offered a seminar at the school to train teachers how to spot warning signs of human trafficking and abuse among their students.
Teachers reported that the children came to school filthy, hungry and sleep-deprived.
An instructional coach testified at trial that Stewart was hostile when school personnel offered additional academic help for the kids.
Stewart’s two biological children have since been adopted and are thriving, Brennan said.
“They have been adopted by a really good family that we still keep in contact with, and they’re doing great,” he said. “They look like completely different children than when we first saw them.”
Stewart’s stepson now is 18, he said.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said he will seek funding in the upcoming legislative session to enhance prosecution of human trafficking and violence against children.
“This case triggered calls to improve reporting and intervention for children,” Balderas said in a written statement. “The state must provide more resources to our teachers so we can protect the children of New Mexico.”