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Shortly after the verdict was read, Robert Pfaff leaned forward in his seat, put his head in his hands and just sat there in silence for a few minutes. Pfaff, along with at least four other victims of convicted burglar Aaron Nguyen, couldn’t believe what they just heard.
Nguyen, who is currently serving five years of supervised probation for burglarizing his neighbors’ homes in 2012, will get no jail time for violating the terms of his probation.
District Court judge Sheri Raphaelson instead took defense attorney Steve Aarons’ account of Nguyen’s progress in dealing with his bipolar disorder since the violation, and simply ordered Nguyen to keep making progress. She also resumed his probation with no time added. Consequences for violating his probation could have included up to 50 years in prison.
During the part of the hearing where the victims were allowed to speak about how Nguyen’s crimes affected them, Pfaff and others had plenty to say.
“The defendant was graciously given a second chance by this court and didn’t take advantage of that, and quite frankly, he doesn’t deserve a third chance,” Pfaff said. He also added he thought Nguyen was a danger to the community as well as himself. “He needs to be given the maximum jail time that the law allows. We need to get this gentleman off the streets.”
One of the other victims who spoke, Susan Veazey, recounted Nguyen’s obsession with stealing their firearms and knives, and how Nguyen’s own father allegedly removed all knives from their home, presumably because they were in fear of their own safety.
Victim Georgia Pedicini told the court that though she thought 50 years would be excessive, he at least should have served some time for his crimes. If he did, she reasoned that getting treatment in a confined setting would not only have put the community at ease, but would have been beneficial to him as well.
“Obviously, five years probation was not enough of a deterrent. Spending that amount of time in prison … In five years Mr. Nguyen could complete an undergraduate degree if he so chooses while receiving whatever treatment is necessary to correct his behavior,” Pedicini said.
Some of the victims described Nguyen’s brazenness as well as the intelligence he used to steal their things, which included opening a gun safe of one of his victims. Nguyen burglarized Pfaff’s house in broad daylight, presumably when Pfaff’s wife, daughters and her daughter’s friends were home, on the top floor. In Pedicini’s case, Nguyen allegedly climbed a Ponderosa tree to access the third floor of their house.
The Pedicinis and others also took issue with Raphaelson’s opinion that the victims approved of a prior plea deal that made Nguyen’s parole possible.
“It is utterly incomprehensible that Judge Raphaelson would state that the victims agreed with the plea bargain. The plea bargain was rammed down the throats of the victims by Judge Raphaelson. That decision was hers and hers alone, and was taken against the express wishes of the most of the victims,” said Georgia’s husband John in a written statement to the Los Alamos Monitor.
“The facts do not support Judge Raphaelson’s contention. It is a gross misrepresentation of the facts for Judge Raphaelson to make that statement or implication. We were informed of the plea deal by the District Attorney, with virtually no time to object before the court date. I asked the Governor’s office to intervene and stop that travesty of justice (correspondence available upon request). The victims did everything within our legal power to stop the plea bargain. For Judge Raphaelson to mock the victims while siding with the armed criminal is reprehensible.”
Raphaelson also reasoned that Nguyen, who is 19, didn’t belong in prison, but instead needs lifelong treatment for his bipolarism.
“You’re asking me to put him in prison basically for the rest of his life,” she said to Nguyen’s victims in the courtroom “I don’t know if you’ve ever been inside the prisons of New Mexico. If you have actually spent any time in prison, you would agree with what I’m about to say, and that is, a prison sentence for a 19-year-old, 100-pound boy is just grossly inappropriate, and that’s my feeling.”
Raphaelson added that she wasn’t trying diminish what the victims went through, but she felt putting him in prison wouldn’t serve anyone’s goals, which she reasoned, was Nguyen’s eventual rehabilitation and assimilation back into society.
Nguyen is now reportedly going to New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. The university reportedly knows about his condition and circumstances, and has given him his own dorm room so he can meet his probation obligations as well as his medical treatment plan.
Nguyen violated his probation in 2013 when he trespassed onto the campus of Los Alamos High School. Around his neck was apparently a camera he stole from one of his neighbors in 2012.
As Nguyen and his parents were exiting the courtroom, there was a brief exchange between Aarons and Pfaff.
“You’re a lucky man,” Pfaff said to Nguyen.
Nguyen sheepishly met his gaze, mumbled something inaudible and continued to walk past the group of victims waiting in the courthouse lobby, down the steps and out the courthouse doors a free man.