GREAT FALLS – William Arocha, Jr., was found guilty on May 9th of voluntary manslaughter for the stabbing death of Shane LaPlant.
Arocha is scheduled to be sentenced on September 6th. After the verdict was announced, Arocha was taken into custody.
Arocha had been facing a second-degree murder charge for the July 5th, 2017, stabbing death in East Glacier.
On Monday (May 21), a hearing was held to determine whether Arocha could be released from custody until his sentencing in September.
Judge John Johnston ruled that Arocha will remain free until his sentencing. The judge’s order reads: “The Court finds that Mr. Arocha can be released pending sentencing consistent with 18 U.S.C. §3143, and has shown by clear and convincing evidence that he is not a flight risk or a danger to the community.”
Here is the full text of the court document:
On May 17, 2018, Mr. Arocha appeared before the undersigned for a detention hearing, requesting to be released on conditions pending sentencing. At the detention hearing, Mr. Arocha presented testimony through his brother as well as his own testimony, arguing that he was not a threat to the community and that he was not a flight risk, as evidenced by his behavior on pretrial release.
Furthermore, Mr. Arocha has undergone two separate psychological risk assessments pending trial and sentencing. On May 9, 2018, Bowman Smelko, Psy.D, ABPP, conducted a formal risk assessment on behalf of Mr. Arocha, and stated that in his opinion, Mr. Arocha had a low risk of re-offending and a low risk of violence. (Doc. 75 at 6-7). Dr. Smelko opined that Mr. Arocha is not an immediate threat to society and does not meet the profile of an individual who will need to be closely supervised. (Id. at 9).
Additionally, on May 16, 2018, Todd Havelka, LCSW, LAC, stated in an opinion that he had been working successfully with Mr. Arocha, and that such treatment would resume if he was released from custody. Mr. Havelka opined that while he had not been able to assess Mr. Arocha’s current mental state, based on his past interactions with Mr. Arocha, he would not consider Mr. Arocha a threat to harm himself or others.
The United States presented evidence through a letter from the victim’s aunt (Doc. 94-1), as well as through testimony of the victim’s wife, who testified that she and her daughters are afraid of Mr. Arocha being released, and requested that he remain in custody pending sentencing.
The United States argued that even if Mr. Arocha may be released, he still has not met his burden to show that he is not a danger to the community. The United States does not argue that Mr. Arocha is a flight risk, but rather that there is not clear and convincing evidence that the community would not be at risk if he were released. The United States argued that the tension in the community was high, and that both the widow and the aunt of the victim testified that they would be afraid of Mr. Arocha if he were to be released. Moreover, the United States argued that Mr. Arocha does not have a job, or family to take care of, and therefore had not presented a compelling reason to be released. Finally, the United States stated that the family of the victim strongly opposed Mr. Arocha’s release.
However, based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the Court finds that there is clear and convincing evidence that there are conditions which would reasonably ensure Mr. Arocha’s appearance at sentencing and would not endanger the safety of the community. Mr. Arocha presented an acceptable release plan through the testimony of his brother. Also, two mental health professionals have opined that Mr. Arocha can safely be released into the community. (See Docs. 75, 89). Additionally, the widow of the victim, while she testified that she was afraid of Mr. Arocha, admitted that Mr. Arocha had not threatened her or her family.
Finally, and most notably, Mr. Arocha has already proven that he can comply with conditions while on release. Mr. Arocha was released on conditions pending trial, and the United States admitted that there were no issues with Mr. Arocha complying with the strict conditions set on him. Upon release, Mr. Arocha would be subject to the same conditions as previously imposed, most importantly, Condition 7(g), which mandates that he shall “avoid all contact, directly or indirectly, with any person who is or may be a victim or witness in the investigation or prosecution[.]” (Doc. 13 at 2). To allay the fears of the United States and the family of the victim, Condition 7(g) shall be updated to specifically include the widow of the victim, the victim’s daughters, and any other person related to the victim. Furthermore, the Court also orders that Mr. Arocha shall be restricted at all times to the home of his brother, Anthony Arocha, except for medical necessities, court appearances, or other activities specifically approved in advance by the United States Probation Office.
Therefore, based on the foregoing, the Court finds that there is clear and convincing evidence that there are conditions which will reasonably ensure that Mr. Arocha will attend sentencing and will not present a danger to the community.
The Court finds that Mr. Arocha can be released pending sentencing consistent with 18 U.S.C. §3143, and has shown by clear and convincing evidence that he is not a flight risk or a danger to the community.
IT IS ORDERED that Defendant William Alberto Arocha, Jr., shall be released from custody at or before 12:00pm, May 21, 2018. Mr. Arocha shall be subject to the conditions stated in the original Order Setting Conditions of Release. (Doc. 13).
Additionally, the original Order Setting Conditions of Release shall be amended as follows: (1) Condition 7(g) will be updated to include members of the victim’s family; and (2) Mr. Arocha shall be restricted at all times to the home of his brother, Anthony Arocha, except for medical necessities, court appearances, or other activities specifically approved in advance by the United States Probation Office.
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