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Had his wife not stayed by his side through the ordeal of court hearings and public humiliation, Charles Herrera said he likely would be dead.
Herrera, 63, of Nambé describes how a claim of criminal sexual penetration filed against him by a Los Alamos woman threw his life into a tailspin.
“Not counting all the pain and suffering and stress, not being able to sleep at night these last eight months, not knowing what was going to happen – the only thing that saved me was my wife who stuck with me,” Herrera said. “If not for her I probably would not be around here. I would have committed suicide.”
Herrera said he has been married nearly 29 years and has worked as a serviceman for Terminix and its predecessor for a combined 35 years.
“I’ve never had a mark against me until October,” he said. “It was a nightmare and it’s going to stay with me the rest of my life.”
Herrera explained he had provided pest control services to a local woman for many years. Last July, he was working at a customer’s home in her neighborhood and said because it was spider and ant season he stopped by her home to ask if she wanted treatment for those pests.
“She said she didn’t need the service and that was the end of it,” Herrera said. “I did not sit down on her couch as she told police…I don’t know why she said the things she did.”
In the statement of probable cause, the 58-year-old woman who filed the complaint stated Herrera provided pest control service to her home for nearly 30 years. According to her statement, after he arrived at her home they sat down on her living room couch and Herrera began to make inappropriate advances, which resulted in the felony charge.
On Oct. 13, Herrera met with police and according to their report, he admitted talking “dirty” to her but said that he “never had sexual thoughts about her.”
The woman told police she couldn’t remember much more about the incident except that she told Herrera her boyfriend would be home soon, which she explained to police was said to get Herrera “off of her.”
At his Nov. 4 arraignment, Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados set Herrera’s bond at $25,000. She ordered him to avoid all contact with the woman and her family, inform his employers of the charge filed against him and prohibited him from entering Los Alamos County except to attend court appearances.
“We had I think four hearings since this all started and each time her story got weaker,” Herrera said of his accuser. “I was on my way to court again on June 18 when my attorney called and said the hearing was cancelled and it appeared the woman was dropping the charge against me. I couldn’t believe it. Because of all the stress, I had to retire from my job and I feel I’ve developed ulcers. My reputation was ruined and just like I have no idea why she filed this charge against me – I have no idea why she dropped the charge.”
Herrera’s attorney, Stephen Peterson of Taos also said he did not know why the charge was dropped.
“All we know is the assistant D.A. said the case was dismissed at the request of the complaining party,” Peterson said. “This was a very stressful time for Charles and we’re very happy that a just result was reached.”
Assistant District Attorney Karen Snell explained Monday that “the case was dismissed without prejudice at the request of the victim.”
This means the charge could be brought forward sometime in the future.
“I can’t say any more about the case than that,” Snell said.
The incident has been hard on Herrera’s wife and son, he said.
“They’ve been very supportive but I know they’ve suffered and I have four sisters and four brothers and we’re all very close and they’ve been supporting me, too,” he said. “And my customers were always good to me. I think most of them knew I wasn’t capable of something like that. Many of them called me and said they didn’t believe it. What really hurts me is that I’ve had to use most of my retirement to fight this but I had no choice.”
Herrera said he has paid his lawyer $50,000 and may owe another $20,000.
“To this day I can’t figure out why she said these things and why she waited until October to call the police,” Herrera said. “But I want to clear my name because they destroyed it, they made me out like a monster, and I’ll say until the day I die – I don’t know a thing about the charges they brought against me.”