Man accused of molesting boys at Santa Fe rec center gets new trial
A 72-year-old Santa Fe man convicted more than a year ago of sexually assaulting two preteen boys in a public shower at Fort Marcy Recreation Complex in 2015 has been granted a new trial and was released from jail Tuesday.
State District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ordered Eric Knee to remain on house arrest and electronic monitoring while attorneys prepare to bring him to trial for the third time on charges of criminal sexual contact with a minor.
Knee is accused of molesting the boys while they were showering in the locker room at the city-run recreation center.
His first trial ended in a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict, splitting 7-5 in favor of conviction.
Jurors convicted Knee following his second trial in May 2017, and he was taken into custody pending sentencing. But before he was sentenced, his lawyers motioned the court for a new trial in the case based on newly discovered evidence.
Judge Marlowe Sommer granted that motion last month.
Knee’s attorney, Dan Cron, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the new trial was granted based in part on his discovery of a witness — a person who, Cron said, will testify that he was in the locker room at the same time as Knee and the boys and didn’t see or hear anything happen between them.
Cron also argued his client should receive a new trial because he had taken and passed a polygraph test and undergone a series of psychological tests aimed at revealing sexual tendencies and had “scored out normal.”
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett argued Tuesday that Knee should be kept in jail while the third trial is pending. Knee’s “presumption of innocence is essentially no longer there” because he already has been convicted, she said.
Padgett also asked that Knee not be released “because of a pending investigation” into allegations that he was banned from the Salvador Perez Recreation Complex sometime in 2011 or 2012. In that case, she said, a patron had called police to report Knee behaving in a sexually inappropriate manner in the locker room at that center while boys from a swim team also were using the locker room.
But the judge rejected those arguments. She suggested the District Attorney’s Office was not acting in good faith by citing the Salvador Perez allegations as reason to hold Knee.
The judge noted the District Attorney’s Office had known about the second set of allegations for three years and had charged Knee with perjury in connection with them following his first trial — accusing Knee of lying when he testified under oath that he had never faced complaints or been asked to leave a public recreation complex before. Ultimately, however, the office dismissed those charges.
Padgett said the District Attorney’s Office renewed its investigation into the alleged events at Salvador Perez following the judge’s decision to grant Knee a new trial.
The prosecutor also told the judge that family members of the victims opposed Knee’s release.
When the judge pushed Padgett to make an argument that no conditions of release would reasonably protect the community from Knee, Padgett said that if the judge was going to release Knee, the state wanted him placed on electronic monitoring and banned from public recreation centers pending his trial.
District Attorney Marco Serna said in a phone interview following the hearing that his office had known for years Knee was accused of behavior at Salvador Perez that was “similar in nature” to his current charges but recently began looking into the allegations after Knee’s conviction in the Fort Marcy case. The office also received a supplemental report on the incident from law enforcement, Serna said.
Two women who identified themselves as aunts of one of Knee’s accusers said after the hearing they were “devastated” by the fact that Knee was being released and will get a new trial.
The women, who asked that their names not be used in order to protect the identity of the children in the case, said being asked to continuously relive the alleged events of that day has made it extremely difficult for the boys to put the incident behind them and move on with a normal life.
Still, they continue to cooperate with prosecutors to protect other children in the community from Knee, the women said.
“He’s absolutely a danger,” one of the women said of Knee. “He needs to be put in jail and kept there.”