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Judge again denies bail for counselor accused of sex crimes

The New Mexico counselor charged with indecent acts against an Albemarle County girl under his care nearly two decades ago got a second chance at bail on Friday. But once again, a judge denied to offer pretrial release to 52-year-old Darren Wade Powell despite a plea for reconsideration from his lawyer.

“The court is not going to change its view in this case,” Judge Areshini Pather said Friday afternoon after a brief hearing in Albemarle Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Pather did, however, issue a general admonition against loud voices and close talking after Powell’s lawyer claimed that the girl’s father approached the accused man’s sister after the previous day’s hearing to gloat about Powell’s incarceration.

Powell has been charged with two counts of indecent acts with a custodial child, each of which is a felony that can bring a sentence as long as five years.

The allegations against Powell arose a year ago, when the girl, now an adult, began telling Albemarle investigators her story of a counselor allegedly abusing his position of trust to groom and rape a 15-year-old.

During the prior day’s hearing, it became apparent that the prosecutor, who did not oppose bail, had not specifically asked the alleged victim for her view.

“I did speak to the victim this morning,” Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Alicia Milligan said during the subsequent hearing. “She indicated she very much would like to see him stay in jail.”

Milligan said that the alleged victim did not perceive an immediate threat from Powell, because she no longer lives in the area, but nonetheless feared intimidation or retaliation. That last statement prompted an immediate response from Powell’s attorney, Rhonda Quagliana, who gestured toward the victim’s father.

“Speaking of intimidation and retaliation, this gentleman crowded my space and had a confrontation with my witness,” said Quagliana. “He said something to the effect of ‘Better luck next time.’”

The court has not released the name of the alleged victim in the case.

Quagliana noted that Powell has no criminal record and has not made contact with the alleged victim since the time of the alleged sexual crimes which were said to occur in 2004 and 2005.

“We do not accept the truth of these allegations,” said Quagliana. “He’s presumed innocent. He’s been in jail for a month.”

“Can I see the attorneys in chambers?” the judge interjected. When they returned, Quagliana continued making her case for bail.

“The standard here is not guilt; it’s not even probable cause,” said Quagliana. “It was nearly 20 years ago, and it would be a misdemeanor if he were not a counselor.”

“It is a serious charge,” countered Milligan. “And her family is concerned.”

Quagliana noted that she’s not proposing a full freedom for Powell but instead attempting to place him under an electronically monitored house arrest.

“The risk of flight is mitigated by home electronic incarceration,” Quagliana said. “Unless the court finds that he’s a danger to the community or flight risk, he’s eligible for bond.”

“Your lawyer is correct,” the judge told Powell, who attended the hearing electronically from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he has been held since March 25 after his extradition from custody near his home in La Luz, a suburb of Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The judge acknowledged that there’s a presumption of pretrial release unless there’s a risk of flight or public danger, but she declared that the severity of the charges and Powell’s distance from home require continued incarceration.

“I take seriously your arguments, but I’m going to stand by my decision of yesterday,” said Pather. “The court has seen cases like this, and they’re highly charged on both sides.”

Quagliana said she would appeal.


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