Court denies petition to lower bail in criminal sexual conduct case
WORTHINGTON — Fifth Judicial District Judge Gordon Moore denied a Nobles County Jail inmate's petition to lower bail at a motion hearing Tuesday.
The defendant, Victorino Ventura Mendez, 23, of Worthington, is accused of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Specifics about the complaint are private due to the age of the victim, but available court documents indicate that Ventura Mendez was charged with sexual penetration of a child under 13 with a significant relationship to him.
A warrant was first issued for Ventura Mendez's arrest in January 2017, and he eluded law enforcement until his October 2019 arrest. He has been held in Nobles County Jail since Oct. 10 on bail set at $250,000 with conditions and $500,000 without conditions.
A jury trial was originally set for April 1-3, but with the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Minnesota Judicial Branch has indefinitely suspended all jury trials in the interest of public safety.
In a previous hearing on the case, Moore ruled that if a trial has not begun by Aug. 20, the court must re-evaluate Ventura Mendez's situation and either lower bail, release him without bail or issue a ruling that exigent circumstances justify keeping him in custody with no bail adjustment.
A new trial date of Aug. 5-7 has been scheduled, and the district court has applied to the state for permission to convene a jury.
Ventura Mendez's lawyer, Louis Kuchera, noted that to date, Ventura Mendez has been incarcerated for more than nine months. Due to uncontrollable circumstances, his trial has been rescheduled twice, even though he demanded a speedy trial earlier in the judicial process.
Kuchera asked that Moore either release Ventura Mendez or lower his bail to $50,000.
"Mr. Ventura Mendez does not have the financial capability to post the $250,000," Kuchera said.
"Jail does remain a risky place for an individual to be held," he added, explaining that being kept in a confined space and having new inmates regularly enter the jail poses a potential risk for Ventura Mendez to contract COVID-19.
Assistant county attorney Braden Hoefert argued that there is a good reason the court set Ventura Mendez's bail at the amount it did.
"The court can concern itself with whether Mr. Ventura Mendez is a flight risk or a danger to public safety, and Mr. Ventura Mendez is both," Hoefert said.
The prosecutor further commented that a major reason for the duration of the court case is that Ventura Mendez fled from local law enforcement for more than two years.
"I think high bail is necessary in this case," Hoefert concluded.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Moore denied Ventura Mendez's request.
"The charges are extraordinarily serious," Moore noted.
If the state does not allow the district court to hold the planned jury trial Aug. 5-7 and a trial has still not begun by Aug. 20, Moore's earlier order will require the court to reconsider bail at that point.