CHILD TRAFFIKING TRIAL BEGINS FOR FATHER OF THREE
October 22, 2019
An Albuquerque father is on trial yet again, this time on charges that he forced his three children to beg for money that he used to fund his drug habit.
Prosecutor Collin Brennan said in his opening statement Tuesday that James Stewart made the kids panhandle rather than going to school. They sometimes stayed out all day asking for money.
Stewart’s defense attorney did not make an opening statement on Tuesday, but may do so at a later point in the trial. Stewart has pleaded not guilty to the charges he faces, namely three counts of human trafficking.
Stewart and his wife made headlines in 2018 after school employees found bloodied underwear worn by Stewart’s young daughter and called the Attorney General’s Office after being dissatisfied with the response from local police and child services.
Brennan said Tuesday the money the kids collected while panhandling was not used on food or housing, and his elementary-aged kids frequently went to school hungry and slept in class.
“This is not out of necessity – nobody needs narcotics,” Brennan said. “He was not using his children in order to survive, he was using them to feed his habit.”
Brennan said Stewart sometimes took his teenage stepson with him to buy drugs from dealers.
“Most people, they look at their kids, they see a reflection of themselves. And most people, they want the best for them,” Brennan said. “That’s not what Mr. Stewart wanted. … He used his kids in order to get a profit.”
Prosecutors allege in court documents that Stewart sat in his SUV, “purposefully keeping his distance so the kids could evoke as much sympathy as possible by appearing poor, homeless and unattended to.”
The trial before state District Court Judge Cindy Leos is expected to continue through Friday.
The state Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting a series of cases against Stewart and his wife, Teri Sanchez. Last month, they filed new charges against the couple, saying they allowed their son to be sexually abused by two adult men.
Stewart was first charged with sex trafficking his young daughter in order to support his drug habit.
He went to trial in February in that case. But the judge declared a mistrial after the girl’s grandmother testified that Stewart had worked as a lookout for a man who is facing federal allegations that he led a criminal sex trafficking ring that was tied to two homicides. The judge had prohibited lawyers from bringing up evidence suggesting Stewart was facilitating human trafficking.
That case is on hold pending an appeal.
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