Monday, June 22, 2009
Dad Was in House Arrest Program
By T.J. Wilham
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Two months before Richard Sanchez abducted his children and possibly drowned them by driving a car into Cochiti Lake, a Metropolitan Court judge said Sanchez could be released from jail on a house arrest program.
He was placed in the Community Custody Program, even though he was awaiting trial on charges of raping his sister-in-law while threatening her with a stun gun and had violated a protective order by threatening his ex-wife while he was out on bail.
Metropolitan Court Judge Victoria Grant sentenced Sanchez in 2001 to a year in jail for violating the protective order but wrote that the defendant was allowed to participate in CCP, which is considered jail time.
"He should have been behind bars when he abducted those kids," Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said Friday after learning Sanchez had been on house arrest. "The Community Custody Program was never supposed to be used for violent felons."
Grant was not available for comment, but court spokeswoman Janet Blair said the ultimate decision to place someone on CCP is made by the jail.
"Judges make defendants eligible for CCP consideration, and it is up to the jail to determine whether they are placed into the program," she said.
Metropolitan Detention Center Director Ron Torres said Friday that the jail would never have allowed someone like Sanchez to participate in CCP then and wouldn't now without an order from a judge. He did not know if there was a direct order to place Sanchez on CCP.
"He would have raised some red flags," Torres said.
Police had been looking for Sanchez since August 2001, when he abducted his three children — Richard Anthony, Daniel Isiah and Christopher Leo Sanchez — during a scheduled custody visit.
The case was featured on "America's Most Wanted," and, for years, police had said Sanchez was out on bond while he awaited trial on the rape charges when the abduction occurred.
But, according to court documents obtained Friday by the Journal, Sanchez was not even eligible for bond at the time. He was serving a jail sentence in community custody. When he failed to report to a correctional officer on the day he abducted the children, a warrant was ultimately issued for his arrest charging him with escape.
Documents show that he had been arrested in August 2000 on the rape charges.
He posted a $75,000 bond and was released two days after his arrest.
In November 2000, Sanchez was indicted on seven counts of criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, assault, tampering with evidence, battery of a witness and child abuse. A 5-year-old witnessed the crime.
Wife sought divorce
After the alleged rape, Sanchez's wife, Susana, filed for divorce and a protection order. In her petition for a protection order, Susana Sanchez wrote that her husband threatened her and "would make sure I wouldn't live if I left him. He would make life miserable for me and would hurt me." She also said she feared for her children's safety "because of what he did to my sister."
"He's got a bad temper and this will upset him," she wrote. "He might go damage our property or myself. ... He's upset for what has happened. Might want revenge."
The divorce was finalized about a week after the indictment. Susana Sanchez had agreed to joint custody, and the children would live with her. The court ordered that Sanchez work out times for visitations. At minimum, Richard Sanchez was to have three hours with the children once a week, every other weekend and two weeks during the summer.
Richard Sanchez was ordered to pay $519 a month in child support. He was making $2,200 a month working at a lumber company, according to court documents.
In March 2001, while on bond for the rape charge, Sanchez went to his wife's home, forced his way in and showed her a stun gun.
Susana Sanchez told police she sat down on a sofa and asked him not to "do anything stupid."
Before leaving, Sanchez told his wife, "I'm scared. I'm scared. I'm dying inside," according to court records.
Sanchez was later arrested for violating the protective order.
In June of that year, he pleaded guilty to the charge, and Grant sentenced him to 364 days in jail. She noted in her sentencing order that Sanchez is "allowed community custody."
"It's disturbing to see violent felons are being allowed to participate in community custody," Schultz said. "But it is even more disturbing for a violation of a protection order. For a protection order to be effective, it must have real consequences. That has to be time behind bars."
While in community custody, Sanchez had been going through counseling and, according to court documents, his attorney and prosecutors were getting close to reaching a plea agreement that police said would have sent him to prison.
He abducted the children about two weeks before he was to appear in court to accept a plea agreement on the rape charges.
A history of trouble
Community custody defendants are essentially on house arrest.
When not working, going to school or participating in activities such as attending church, they are supposed to be home. They wear monitoring ankle bracelets.
The jail chooses which inmates are put on community custody, however, the decisions can be vetoed by a judge.
The program has been under fire in recent years, mainly over whom judges and the jail have allowed in the program
The following people were placed on CCP:
• Jaime Alderete, who had been arrested at least 32 times under five names and various dates of birth, was placed on the program in December 2008. While in the program he was charged with beating his pregnant girlfriend while wearing his community ankle bracelet.
• 18-year-old Isadore Traiger was in community custody when he robbed two stores at gunpoint.
• Serial killer Clifton Bloomfield was placed on CCP after he was convicted on his third felony — armed robbery. Police had no idea he had already killed two of his five victims.
• In October 2001, John Zamora, 21, was on CCP when he was charged with criminal sexual penetration, child abuse and kidnapping. Zamora was awaiting trial for aggravated battery charges with a deadly weapon in connection with a 2006 incident in which he stabbed the same woman he allegedly raped while on CCP.
Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White has been a critic of the CCP program and covered the Sanchez abductions when he was a reporter for KRQE Channel 13.
"This is yet another tragic example where somebody who should have been behind bars committed the unthinkable," he said. "What has to happen next before changes are made?"