Gerald Hale
Gerald Hale (Courtesy of San Juan County Adult Detention Center)

FARMINGTON — A man who police say confessed to a lifetime of sexually abusing children — including several at Farmington elementary schools where he worked as a substitute teacher — was released from jail last week.

He was being held on suspicion of sexually abusing a young relative.

Gerald Hale, 83, pleaded guilty March 21 to criminal sexual contact against a minor, child abuse and false imprisonment. As a condition of his plea deal, he was sentenced to five years probation and was released from the San Juan County Adult Detention Center that day, according to jail records.

The case was the third one Hale has had in San Juan County's district court after he was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting young girls.

Hale's trial was scheduled to start today. But there were problems with prosecuting the case, said San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien.

"We had serious evidentiary problems with the case and our ability to present evidence at trial was compromised," he said.

Cosme Ripol, Hale's attorney, said the deal will save his client's victim from having to testify.

"There were significant witness problems, and there was a high probability of a mistrial," Ripol said. "In order to protect the victim from psychological and emotional stress of a trial and cross examination, combined with (Hale's) age, a plea was offered."

Ripol said District Judge William Birdsall "reluctantly" accepted the plea.

O'Brien and Ripol each declined to discuss the issues that prevented the case from being tried in court.

Hale was arrested in August 2012. He was accused of criminal sexual contact against a relative, who was developmentally delayed, according to the affidavit for Hale's arrest.

The girl was 13 years old when police started investigating the case in July 2012. But the assault happened when she was 9 years old in 2008.

She told investigators Hale has molested her at another relative's house.

During an interview with Farmington police and FBI investigators in August 2012, Hale said he started molesting young girls when he was 10 years old and continued to molest children throughout his life, said Farmington police Detective Heather Chavez.

"He estimated there were between 15 and 20 victims over the course of a 70-year span," she said.

She said Hale was convicted of sexual assault against a child in California more than 40 years ago. He was also convicted of criminal sexual contact against a child in a 1995 case in Farmington, she said.

The 1995 case came to light when at least four Farmington parents called police to say Hale had molested their daughter when he worked as a substitute teacher for the Farmington Municipal School District.

Hale was arrested after police spoke with four young girls who said Hale touched them sexually while he was pushing them on a swing set at Bluffview Elementary when he was a substitute teacher on April 27, 1995, according to court documents.

Another girl said Hale sexually touched her when she handed in an assignment at McCormick Elementary School when Hale was a substitute teacher there on April 25 of that year.

Hale was arrested and eventually charged with eight counts of criminal sexual contact against a minor. He pleaded guilty to four of those counts and was sentenced to prison.

In 2005, he was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a young relative. He pleaded guilty to a probation violation and served about three years in prison, according to The Daily Times archives.

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.