HOLBROOK—Rick Pogue, 56, was sentenced Tuesday in the Navajo County Superior Court to seven consecutive life sentences after a jury of 12 found him guilty in February of seven counts of sexual conduct with a minor and seven counts of kidnapping. The victims were two family members and the crimes occurred over several years in Joseph City and Winslow. Pogue is also suspected of committing similar crimes in New Mexico. Of the two victims, one was 6 years old at the time of the abuse. Pogue still maintains his innocence.
A grand jury indicted Pogue in August 2018 for 8 counts of sexual conduct with a minor and 8 counts of kidnapping. He rejected a plea offer, and the case had been set to go to trial three times. Finally a five-day jury trial began on Feb. 4, during which the judge, Hon. Dale Nielson, dismissed two of the charges for lack of evidence. The state was represented by career prosecutor Lee White of the Navajo County Attorney’s Office. Pogue’s attorney is Bruce Griffen of Flagstaff.
At sentencing, Pogue was escorted into the courtroom by a sheriff’s detention officer. He was dressed in standard jail issue orange jump suit, and was handcuffed. He is a relatively short, stout man, with a grey beard, thinning grey hair swept back and he wore black rimmed glasses. He declined to speak, but one of the victims took the stand. “You are a very sick individual,” the now-adult victim told him, before Judge Nielson politely asked her to direct her comments to the court. “The truth has come out,” she said, adding “I’ve waited my entire life.” She praised the detective work and the effort by the prosecutor’s office.
Defense attorney Griffen remarked about the two stark, incompatible versions of events in this case. One, either that his client committed an “epic” violation of the law, which Griffen seems not to believe, or the victim has told a story that insures that “a man will die in prison,” he said.
In fact, after the jury’s verdict, Griffen filed a motion for a new trial based on several grounds, some having to do with technical court procedures, and one argument that the verdict was simply against the weight of the evidence. One of the procedural matters has to do with the rule of criminal procedure which excludes from the courtroom up-coming witnesses while other witnesses testify. The reason there is such a rule is to ensure that when a witness testifies, he or she is recounting events as they remember them, and their memory wasn’t influenced by listening to others testify. In Pogue’s case, the mother of the victim testified, was released by the judge, stayed in the courtroom during other testimony, then was called back to the stand wherein she gave more testimony, favorable to the state.
Another evidentiary issue was a "transcript” of a telephone call in which Pogue presumably took part. It turns out there was not a recording of the call, and the “transcript” was merely someone’s recollection of what was said during the call. The “transcript” itself was not admitted in evidence and the jury did not have it during their deliberations.
Then there was the issue of “burden shifting.” It is bedrock doctrine in American criminal law that the state has the burden of proving the defendant guilty. The defense does not have to prove innocence, and has no obligation to even put on any evidence. In this case, the defense argued that Pogue had a “golfball-sized groin growth” that would have been noticeable by the victims if indeed he did what they said he did, and apparently, neither victim saw anything like that. During closing arguments, prosecutor White asked the jury to ask themselves why the defense presented no picture of the growth to prove that it actually existed. That, Pogue claims, was an impermissible shift of the burden of proof to the defendant and is grounds for a new trial.
Finally, Pogue argued that the weight of the evidence compelled a not guilty verdict; namely, that testimony about his “almost daily” abuse was impossible because of his chronic back problems which had required surgery. Also, testimony about acts happening on the edge of Pogue’s bed could never had happened because Pogue had a waterbed.
In the end, Nielson denied the motion. Pogue has 20 days starting April 7 to file a notice of appeal.