Erwin Estoque, who was found innocent of having sexual contact with a 13-year-old female, feels his life will never be the same. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer
Erwin Estoque’s life as a youth music minister and college student changed dramatically after his arrest. He was accused of having sexual contact with a 13-year-old female.
He said he was unable to complete his graphic artist degree at Eastern New Mexico University due to the amount of course work he missed while incarcerated. He was also asked by the congregation at his church to step down from his position as music minister at the New Life Assembly of God Church and to vacate his apartment, which was located on church property.
Estoque, 32, was found innocent last week by a jury during a two-day trial, but feels his life will never be the same.
He said he has spent the last year looking over his shoulder and “being careful around people.” He said he no longer has the trust he once had.
Estoque said Wednesday he plans to move to California to join his adoptive father’s ministry.
“I feel like I have a cloud over my head here,” he said.
With the aid of church members, Estoque hired former Clovis district attorney Randall Harris to represent him. Harris said the district attorney’s office offered his client a plea bargain.
“Erwin turned it down because he was not going to register as a sex offender when he was innocent,” Harris said.
According to Harris, 30 to 40 members of the New Life Assembly of God Church were in attendance at the trial to offer their support to Estoque.
Estoque was indicted by a Curry County grand jury on March 13, 2004. The charges included three counts of criminal sexual penetration, three counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and one count of enticement of a child.
The charges stem from a single incident at Ned Houk Park.
He spent 35 days in jail before being released on bond.
Church member Denesha Stoddard said Estoque used his time in jail to read Scripture, write songs and pray.
“He said he felt like Daniel in the lion’s den,” Stoddard said. “He kept his spirits high and dedicated his heart to God.”
Harris said his client knew his accuser through the church youth group.
He said on the night in question, the teen called Estoque and said she wanted to talk. Harris said his client invited the teen to take a ride while he picked up some guitar strings and they also stopped for an ice cream. They took a ride to Ned Houk Park, where she said the sexual contact took place.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Andrea Reeb said Estoque was prosecuted due to the credible statement given by the 13-year-old accuser.
“Her story was detailed,” Reeb said. “There was no doubt in my mind that she was telling the truth.”
Estoque did not have a criminal record, according to Reeb.
New Life Assembly of God Church Pastor Mike Shipman said he had faith in Estoque’s innocence.
“We continued to pay him his part-time salary from the church,” Shipman said. “I never doubted his innocence.”
Taylor Stoddard, 13, attends New Life Assembly of God and is part of the youth group. “Erwin gave me lots of rides,” Stoddard said. “He is a nice guy and he would never hurt a fly.” Stoddard said he and Estoque loved to crack jokes and share music on their iPods.
Kaethe Binder also attended church with Estoque and shared a love of music with him as well — Estoque has recorded several Christian songs.
“He has so much talent,” Binder said. “He can play anything with strings or a keyboard.”
Binder said she also admired Estoque for being a “stand-up” person who is honorable and sincere. Shipman echoed Binder’s statement and added Estoque is a “very humble young man.”
Dot and Mike Robinson, owners of Payless Rentals, employed Estoque during the time he was awaiting trial.
“We were pleased with him as an employee,” Robinson said. “He was very respectful and courteous, which is hard to find.”
Estoque said he will continue to pray constantly for his accuser and her family. “God is in control,” Estoque said. “I am just going to take it one day at a time.”