David Kantun-Vera
David Kantun-Vera (Courtesy of San Juan County Adult Detention Center)

FARMINGTON — A man who was arrested in February 2013 on a charge of criminal sexual penetration against a three-year-old girl was found not guilty of lesser charges on Wednesday after his jury trial in Aztec District Court.

Aztec police arrested David Kantun-Vera, 31, last year on suspicion that he sexually assaulted a three-year-old girl while he was baby-sitting the girl and her seven-year-old brother at their father's home on Light Plant Road in Aztec. The affidavit for his arrest stated the girl told both her parents about the abuse, and later a forensic interviewer at Childhaven, a Farmington organization that serves abused children.

The alleged assault happened sometime in January, but police weren't able to determine what day.

Kantun-Vera was originally charged with two first-degree felonies for criminal sexual penetration against a child under 13 and kidnapping, which each carried a possible 18-year-prison sentence.

But the charges against Kantun-Vera were amended to a third-degree felony child abuse and fourth-degree felony false imprisonment against a child after the victim declined to talk in detail about her attack during a hearing in district court in July 2013.

"It's still difficult for her to talk about," San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said. "She was able to talk about part of what happened, but she couldn't talk about everything."

Because of the girl's age and the because she was reportedly having nightmares about Kantun-Vera, prosecutors filed a motion to spare the girl from testifying at trial, according to court documents.

Chief District Judge John Dean, who presided over the case, granted the motion and her testimony was recorded in the courtroom in July. The tape was played in front of the jury this week.

During the hearing, the girl said that Kantun-Vera took her into her father's room and touched her, hurt her and she cried and called for help. But she said she couldn't remember where he touched her.

"I don't know, my mom knows," she said.

The girl said she went to the doctor because Kantun-Vera hurt her.

But she said she went to the doctor because her back hurt. In the original affidavit of Kantun-Vera's arrest, it said she went to the doctor because she had been vaginally penetrated, but doctor's couldn't find medical evidence of the assault. The doctor's appointment was more than a week after the alleged assault, according to court documents.

The child sounded nervous when answering questions and there were long pauses when the prosecutor had to repeat questions to get basic answers from her, according to an audio tape of the hearing.

During trial, the girl's father said he left Kantun-Vera to watch his children for 30 minutes sometime in January 2013 because he had an emergency at work. He came home and noticed his daughter had been crying.

The girl's brother testified that Kantun-Vera took his sister into a bathroom. That was different than what he told police during the original investigation, where he said Kantun-Vera took his sister into his father's bedroom and locked the door.

The girl's mother said in court she took her daughter to the doctor because she was complaining of an injury, but the mother couldn't tell the jury what injuries the child was complaining of.

Kantun-Vera took the stand and said he never hurt the girl. He said the children's parents must have told them to lie, because they were upset Kantun-Vera had a truck, a good job, a high-school diploma and was planning on attending college.

"I've known those kids since they were born," he said through a Spanish-speaking interpreter. "I would never do something like that."

During closing arguments, Mark Curnutt, Kantun-Vera's attorney, said the state showed no physical evidence, and the case revolved around inconsistent testimony from two young children.

Deputy District Attorney Casey Stone said it wasn't reasonable to believe the children's statements were part of a "grand conspiracy" to put Kantun-Vera in prison.

The jury deliberated for an hour and a half before returning the not guilty verdict.

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.