Victims Question Whether Judge Qualified to Render Sentence on Serial Burglar

District Judge Sheri A. Raphaelson rendered no jail time for convicted serial burglar Aaron Nguyen despite his probation violation, which has his victims questioning her ability to try the case. Photo by Carol A. Clark/
Aaron Nguyen, 19, of Los Alamos briefly apologizes to victims in the courtroom Wednesday before turning to the judge to tell her that his mental health is now a top priority. Photo by Carol A. Clark/
Defendant Aaron Nguyen, 19, sits with his mother and father before his sentencing hearing begins in District Court. Nguyen’s father, leaning forward to speak to attorney Steve Aarons, is a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He told the judge during a November proceeding that his two older sons were honor students. The eldest is a doctor and the middle son is a physicist. Photo by Carol A. Clark/
Los Alamos Daily Post

District Judge Sheri Raphaelson drew the ire of Los Alamos residents victimized by serial burglar Aaron Nguyen, when she refused to order him to jail during his sentencing hearing Wednesday for a probation violation.

At his July 24 sentencing hearing, Nguyen pled guilty to all 16 counts filed against him and several victims testified at that hearing, urging Raphaelson to render a stiffer sentence. The judge accepted a plea deal and granted Nguyen a conditional discharge that included five years of supervised probation, counseling and treatment, paying restitution to the victims and wearing an electronic monitoring device. She told Nguyen that if he violated any aspect of his probation, he would go to prison for up to 57 years.

Nguyen was arrested in November at Los Alamos High School and charged with receiving/possessing stolen property over $2,500 in value and tampering with evidence. He spent Thanksgiving in the Los Alamos County jail on a no bond hold for violating his probation.

During Wednesday’s sentencing hearing for the November violation, victims told Raphaelson that Nguyen not only stole their property, but their peace of mind. They have added deadbolts and chains to their doors, purchased guns for protection, altered their behavior and some still have trouble sleeping.

Nguyen’s crime spree spanned several months over 2012 into 2013. He stole weapons and was armed when he broke into homes to steal jewelry and cash, alcohol, electronics and more. 

His attorney Steve Aarons said he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is on medication and seeing a counselor in Las Cruces. Attorney Josh Granata stood in for Assistant District Attorney Kent Wahlquist.

Susan Veazey and her husband Gerry live next door to Nguyen and his family. She told the judge that Nguyen’s father approached her on her lawn one day and said his son has an infatuation with guns and knives and that he and his wife had taken all of the guns and knives out of the house.

Nguyen burglarized the Veazey’s home twice.

“He took a loaded gun from under our bed,” she said. “He needs to be off the streets – wherever he lives – he is a threat ….” 

Nguyen, 19, is living in a room on campus at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. His lawyer Steve Aarons told the judge he is attending the college and “doing well.” Victims asked the judge what “doing well” meant because his lawyer said the same thing in July and in November he was back in Los Alamos violating his probation.

“His crimes have a permanent impact not only on victims but to the entire neighborhood,” Georgia Pedicini told Raphaelson. “He was given a generous second chance … then in November, only a few months after his five year probation sentence he entered Los Alamos High School and when a teacher told him to leave, refused to do so … when arrested, stolen property was found in his car.”

Pedicini said that Nguyen has exhibited a pattern of behavior in discord with the law.

“We believe Mr. Nguyen should be incarcerated until he demonstrates concepts of personal responsibility,” she said, adding that the sentencing is not just about Nguyen, but the message it sends.

Robert Pfaff told the judge that he and the other victims have yet to be paid the restitution she ordered in July.

“Mr. Nguyen was graciously granted a second chance and quite frankly he doesn’t deserve a third chance,” Pfaff said. “He deserves the maximum jail time that the law allows.”

Raphaelson did not order Nguyen to jail for up to the 57 years she promised last July, but rather continued his five years of supervised probation, counseling and treatment.

“A prison sentence for a 100-pound, 19-year-old boy is grossly inappropriate,” Raphaelson told the victims. “I do not hesitate to send people to prison who deserve to be in prison … I am not sending Mr. Nguyen to prison.”

Another point that upset victims in the courtroom Wednesday was Raphaelson saying she was under the impression that they had all agreed to the plea agreement.

Pedicini’s husband John M. Pedicini, a Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was unable to attend Wednesday’s hearing due to work commitments, but he issued the following statement to the Los Alamos Daily Post:

“It is utterly incomprehensible that Judge Raphaelson would state or imply 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. The facts do not support Judge Raphaelson’s contention. You have published my victim’s statement, read in court in the first proceeding, and witnessed the other victim’s statements. 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.”

Read Pedicini’s victim’s statement here.

Frustration boiled over during a gathering of victims outside the courtroom Wednesday following the judge’s ruling. 

“The community needs to know the leniency of this judge and the impact to this community,” Pfaff said. “I think she’s underqualified to try this cae. I want to know when she’s up for reelection – we can’t afford her here.”

Aaron Nguyen scaled this mature ponderosa to gain access to a door on the third floor of this victim’s home. Courtesy photo

Police logged stolen jewelry and ammunition into evidence last May, which were discovered in Aaron Nguyen’s North Mesa bedroom. PrintScreen photo/LADP

Police logged firearms, ammunition and cameras into evidence last May, which were discovered in Aaron Nguyen’s North Mesa bedroom. PrintScreen photo/LADP

Police logged alcohol, cameras and electronics into evidence last May, which were discovered in Aaron Nguyen’s North Mesa bedroom. PrintScreen photo/LADP