DA: Violent Taos felon gets final chance to avoid prison

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 10/17/19

A convicted felon from Taos who made national news in 2016 when he was accused of battering his wife, newborn baby and a security guard at Holy Cross Medical Center pleaded guilty to three violent felonies this week in exchange for what the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office described as his final chance to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

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DA: Violent Taos felon gets final chance to avoid prison

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A convicted felon from Taos who made national news in 2016 when he was accused of battering his wife, newborn baby and a security guard at Holy Cross Medical Center pleaded guilty to three violent felonies this week in exchange for what the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office described as his final chance to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

Three years after he was arrested in the hospital case, Rafael Orozco pleaded guilty in Taos District Court on Tuesday (Oct. 15) to battering a health care worker, a fourth-degree felony, and two third-degree felonies filed in separate cases he picked up while incarcerated in the Taos County jail: aggravated battery upon a peace officer, for battering a female jailer in 2017, and aggravated battery, for hitting another detainee roughly 40 times in the head and face in March of this year.

Those charges carry a six-year prison sentence, which would be increased to 14 years under the New Mexico Habitual Offender Statute after Orozco admitted he is the same person convicted in three prior felony cases, two of which can be used by the state to extend the sentence by a total of eight years.

In exchange for his guilty pleas, the state is giving Orozco the opportunity instead to spend the next two years at Delancey Street Foundation, a Río Arriba County drug treatment program known for helping criminals become clean and sober so they can re-enter society.

Orozco applied to the program earlier this year and will have to complete a final acceptance interview at the facility in coming days for the plea agreement to stand. If he is rejected, the plea agreement will be voided and the process of resolving his three final cases starts over.

If Orozco successfully completes the program, however, he would spend the following five years under the supervision of Taos Adult Probation and Parole. He would also pay restitution to be determined by the probation office and would complete 40 hours of community service. He would have to obtain prior approval to travel out of state.

Commenting on the agreement this week, 8th Judicial District Attorney Marcus Montoya acknowledged that the deal is a bit of a gamble, but he said winning the same convictions at trial and convincing a judge to impose prison time was also uncertain. Two of the state’s key witnesses, he said, had refused to cooperate on two of the three cases pending against Orozco. Orozco’s wife, Iesha Hartt, was charged in a drunk driving and vehicular homicide case earlier this year. Martin Rivera, Orozco’s alleged accomplice in the beating of the detainee, is a known gang member in Taos who was released to another treatment center this year. Montoya did not specify who the witnesses were, however.

Montoya also said that Orozco’s agreement to acknowledge his prior felonies allowed the state to extend his potential prison sentence if he fails to complete the program by an additional eight years – four for each prior felony.

“What we’ve been able to do is guarantee 14 years, eight of which are habitual, which are mandatory,” he said. “So we’ve doubled everything.”

Still, it’s a risk. Delancey Street is not a detention facility, and there have been instances of program participants walking off property and committing other crimes.

Orozco and his brother, Cristian Orozco, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison this year on five felony cases, have been in and out of the county jail since they were teenagers.

“My awareness of you and your brother goes back to when you were kids, when I was at the DA’s office,” said Judge Jeff McElroy, who will retire at the end of the month. “It’s been a long history of problems. I think it boils down, as far as I can tell, to a real challenge to authority and defiance of authority and authority figures.”

McElroy urged Orozco to take the opportunity to avoid prison time seriously. The judge said he regretted that the 25-year-old had spent so much time waiting in jail for his cases to be resolved.

“I don’t think this is a good representation of how our system is supposed to work,” he said. “That being said, I truly hope that what I’m about to do in this sentence in placing you at Delancey Street – that it works.”

“Thank you for this chance,” Orozco responded. “I really do appreciate that.”

His response was a marked shift in tone from a detention hearing last month, when McElroy denied Orozco an early release. Orozco responded by shouting expletives at the judge as he exited the courtroom on his way back to his cell.

Tim Hasson, the prosecutor on Orozco’s cases, echoed McElroy’s hopes for the defendant.

“We recognize that a lot of the defendants that we prosecute also need help, so we focus on the resources that are available,” Hasson said. “But, despite the prosecution aspects of it, Mr. Orozco might be surprised to learn that there’s a great deal of compassion for him.”

“One thing I’ve heard him say over and over again is his drug addiction and how he wants to change that,” he went on. “But I’m concerned, too, that the challenges Mr. Orozco faces go far beyond drug addiction. When people abuse drugs, mostly they hurt themselves, and when they commit violent acts, they hurt others and there’s been a lot of that in the past. I hope this works for Mr. Orozco and I wish him the best. I hope he can figure out really how to ask for help and how to receive it and I hope it’s available for him.”

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