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La Plata County man found guilty of sexual assault on a child

Suspect and victim were minors when crimes occurred

A La Plata County man has been found guilty of sexual assault on a child after a four-day trial this week in Durango.

The man, who was a juvenile at the time of the assaults, exposed himself to a much younger child and made the child perform sexual acts on him, according to testimony this week in 6th Judicial District Court.

The incidents occurred about nine years ago, when the victim was about 6 years old and the defendant was about 13 years old. The assaults occurred over the course of a couple of years. The victim did not report the crimes until she was about 15 years old.

Even then, it took a while for the case to come to trial. A judge suppressed key evidence for the prosecution, which was later appealed and allowed to be admitted for trial.

By the time the allegations were made, the suspect was an adult in basic training for the military. He admitted to the assaults in a multi-hour interview with investigators.

Ingrid Alt, his Durango defense lawyer, said her client’s statements amounted to a “false confession.” An expert witness was called to testify about the phenomenon of false confessions – people who admit to serious crimes, only to be later exonerated, sometimes through DNA evidence.

The expert witness said false confessions can occur from shoddy interview tactics, which include offering false promises, coaxing people, using power of authority over suspects and sharing facts about a case that a suspect may not otherwise know.

The defendant did not take the witness stand in his own defense.

Deputy District Attorney Sean Murray asked jurors to focus on specific statements made by the suspect during his interview that contradict the defense’s theory of a false confession.

Jurors took about an hour to reach their guilty verdict.

District Attorney Christian Champagne said the defendant will likely have to register as a sex offender and complete sex offender treatment. He faces probation or up to six months in jail, in accordance with juvenile sentencing laws. (The Durango Herald is not naming the defendant because he was a juvenile at the time of the offense.)

“It’s just another example of how prevalent sexual assault is in the community,” Champagne said. “It’s everywhere, and it continues to be pushed off to the side like it doesn’t happen, but it’s happening all the time all around us.

“It took a lot of courage for this young woman to come forward and go through this long, drawn-out process, unfortunately, but it spreads awareness about this crime.”