Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Attorney not surprised by Aragon acquittal

Says manslaughter case should not have been prosecuted

Express Staff Writer

This memorial to Sage Aragon was built by her father, Robert Aragon, and other family members about 3.5 miles west of state Highway 75 on West Magic Road. The spot commemorates where Sage’s body was found early Dec. 26. Cameraman Warren Jones is shown here Friday recording the image for truTV for national airing. Photo by Willy Cook

A Hailey attorney involved in the Robert Aragon manslaughter case said he was not surprised Friday when a Lincoln County jury rendered a verdict of not guilty.

"Not at all," attorney Douglas Nelson said. "I'm a little surprised that this case got prosecuted at all. You don't have to prosecute someone just because someone dies—there's such a thing as tragedies."

At the conclusion of a weeklong trial in Shoshone, the jury deliberated about two hours before acquitting Aragon, a 56-year-old Jerome man, of involuntary manslaughter and felony injury to a child.

In a case that drew national news media attention, Aragon was charged in the death last Christmas Day of his 11-year-old daughter, Sage Aragon, who died of hypothermia on West Magic Road in southern Blaine County.

Aragon and his cousin Kenneth Quintana, 29, of Jerome, were taking Sage and her 12-year-old brother, Bear Aragon, to visit the children's mother, JoLeta Jenks, in the West Magic Reservoir area. The car became stuck in snow and Aragon allegedly allowed the children to attempt a nine-mile walk to see their mother.

A storm set in later that day. Bear was found, cold but alive, that evening in a roadside bathroom. Sage was found dead early the following morning covered with snow alongside the road.

Nelson was appointed by the court in January to represent Quintana, who had been charged with the same crimes as Aragon. At a preliminary hearing later that month, Lincoln County Magistrate Court Judge Mark Ingram agreed with Nelson that Quintana had no custodial authority over the children and dismissed the charges against him.

Nelson attended the Aragon trial last week in case Quintana, who is still his client, was called to testify. Quintana was not called to the stand.

Nelson said the jury made the right decision in acquitting Aragon.

"The thing with this case is that everybody thought that the dad just threw his kids out in a freezing storm," Nelson said. "But it was the kids' idea, and the weather was nice when the kids started walking.

"For them to take off under those conditions was different from what everybody thought, and once the jury heard those facts, they did the right thing."

Nelson said Aragon made a "terrible mistake, but without any criminal intent."

"In this state, you have to have criminal intent before you can be convicted of a felony," he said. "You can't do anything more in the criminal justice system than what he (Aragon) goes through every night when he goes to bed."

Jerome attorney Patrick McMillen, who was appointed counsel for Aragon, declined to comment Tuesday.

Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney E. Scott Paul did not return a telephone call to the Idaho Mountain Express by press deadline Tuesday.

Terry Smith:

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