Friday, January 9, 2009

Men accused of malice in child’s death

Intent not required for second-degree murder charge

Express Staff Writer

Robert E. Aragon Kenneth S. Quintana

The charging documents against two Jerome men in the Christmas Day death of an 11-year-old girl allege that the men "did willfully, unlawfully, deliberately and with malice" cause her death.

The documents state that the death was not premeditated, and hence the father and uncle of Sage Aragon were charged with second-degree rather than first-degree murder.

Under Idaho law, intent to kill is irrelevant to a murder charge if an accused person is deemed to have subjected someone to "extreme and prolonged" brutality or suffering. Neither does the accusation of malice require that the death be caused intentionally, but only that the act was done with "conscious disregard for human life."

Sage Aragon, a Jerome sixth grader, froze to death on Christmas Day after her father and uncle allegedly permitted her to try to walk some nine miles through freezing weather and blowing snow to visit her mother in the West Magic Reservoir area in south Blaine County.

According to court documents, Sage was dressed in a "black vest, pink pants and a down jacket." Blaine County Coroner Russell Mikel said the down jacket lacked a liner, was worn and threadbare and insufficient for the weather.

Sage's father, 55-year-old Robert E. Aragon, and uncle, 29-year-old Kenneth Quintana, have also been charged with felony injury to a child for allegedly allowing Bear Aragon, Sage's 12-year-old brother, to attempt the same walk to visit his mother.

Court documents state that Bear was "dressed in a black sweatshirt and blue jeans." He was found alive, sheltering in a small unheated restroom along West Magic Road, but suffered from hypothermia.

The weather on Christmas Day in the Magic Valley started out relatively mild. Skies were mostly overcast and the sun even peeked through a few times. But a storm was forecast. By midmorning it started snowing, followed by a frigid wind from the southwest. The snow stopped by early afternoon but the wind continued to blow throughout the day.

The Blaine County Sheriff's Office reported that the temperature on Christmas Day in the west Magic Reservoir area reached a high of 27, but that winds gusting up to 23 miles per hour led to a wind chill factor of five degrees below zero.

According to police reports, Aragon and Quintana were driving Sage and Bear to visit the children's mother when the vehicle became stuck in a snowdrift sometime around 9 a.m. on West Magic Road about a mile west of state Highway 75. Court documents aren't specific as to whether the children were told or allowed to start walking at that point, but instead accuse Aragon and Quintana of "causing" the trek.

West Magic Road is a two-lane paved roadway that winds at first near cottonwood trees along the Big Wood River and then through mostly sagebrush range land. A few ranch sites lie along its course, but the closest residential area is about eight miles west of state Highway 75. The road is generally kept in good repair for residents of the area and for recreational access to Magic Reservoir.

The road starts out in Lincoln County, meanders into Blaine County and then enters Camas County before winding back into Blaine.

Aragon and Quintana were charged in Lincoln County because they were in Lincoln County when the children started their walk

According to police reports, Aragon and Quintana left the area after getting the car unstuck and didn't learn that the children hadn't arrived at their mother's residence until about 2 p.m. They then returned and started searching for the children. An official search didn't start until authorities were notified that the children were missing shortly before 7 p.m.

According to a probable-cause affidavit filed by Lincoln County Deputy Jeremy Compton, Aragon told Compton that the mother was "supposed to meet them on the road and take custody" of the children.

However, the mother, 32-year-old JoLeta Jenks, is quoted in the Times-News as saying "they didn't even call me, telling me they were walking."

Compton wrote that West Magic Road was not drivable at that time anyway because of drifting snow.

The Blaine County Sheriff's Office is investigating to see if Jenks had any involvement in the death of Sage but has declined to comment on the investigation.

Aragon and Quintana remain incarcerated, Quintana in the Blaine County jail and Aragon in Jerome. Aragon is being held on $500,000 bond and bail has been reduced to $150,000 for Quintana.

Both men have been provided with public defenders. Aragon is represented by Jerome attorney Patrick McMillen and Quintana by Hailey attorney Douglas Nelson.

Preliminary hearings for both men are scheduled for Jan. 14 in Lincoln County Magistrate Court in Shoshone.

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