A man accused of molesting four children pleaded guilty Monday to violating one of them while he worked as a health aide at Gonzales Community School, where the child was a student.
Robert Apodaca pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual contact of a child under the age of 13, though prosecutor Haley Murphy told the court the child, then 12, reported Apodaca had assaulted him as many as 100 times between 2018 and 2019, including during car rides the two went on together and in an office at the school.
Apodaca pleaded guilty without a negotiated agreement with the District Attorney’s Office. The court has discretion to sentence him to between three years and 45 years in prison.
He’ll be sent to a state prison in Los Lunas for a 60-day diagnostic evaluation before his sentencing.
Apodaca — also a former employee at Santa Fe’s Santo Niño Regional Catholic School — broke down during his plea hearing, telling state District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer he felt bad for breaking the trust of the child and his family, who had been members of his church congregation.
“I know I’ve done wrong,” he said. “It’s hard for me to fathom what I did, and what I did was inexcusable. … I allowed my imperfections, my past, to cause me to harm someone that I enjoyed spending time with and his family. I allowed myself to give in to improper thoughts and wasn’t someone that I should have been. I should have been there for him. I should have helped him through problems but chose to focus on myself; that hurts me the most, and I hurt my congregation.”
Sommer in May raised the issue of Apodaca’s competency to stand trial after he said during a status conference he wanted to plead guilty to the charges in this case but not in others pending against him.
Apodaca’s attorney, public defender Julita Leavell, said at the time this particular case was meaningful to Apodaca because it involved a member of his congregation.
“His motivation here is very much tied to his congregation and his place within that congregation and his relationship with God,” Leavell said.
“I don’t think it’s a competency issue,” she continued. “A lot of this is coming from what he thinks he needs to do as a Jehovah’s Witness.”
Sommer agreed to set a hearing for the plea after prosecutors and defense attorneys stipulated to his competency at a subsequent hearing.
The judge previously rejected two plea agreements, including one that would have resolved all the cases against Apodaca and given Sommer discretion to sentence him to between 18 and 30 years.
Sommer rejected the first plea in December after victims objected, in part they said because it would have allowed him to plead no contest instead of guilty. The judge refused to accept another plea in January — the terms of which were not put on the record — after Apodaca said he hadn’t had time to fully discuss his possible defenses with his attorney.
The District Attorney’s Office dismissed one of what had been four cases filed against Apodaca in December, “pending further investigation.”
Two others appear headed to trial, with jury selection set to take place in September.