Jicarilla Apache Tribe, New Mexico

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A tribal member convicted of sexually abusing his girlfriend's 8-year-old daughter won an appeal in federal court in Denver and has been granted a new trial. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled June 2 that the district court erred by permitting certain expert testimony in the trial of Mel Lambert Velarde. The appeals court reversed Velarde's conviction and remanded the case to a lower court for a new trial. Velarde was convicted by a jury on one count of aggravated sexual abuse on a child for assaulting his girlfriend's daughter on Feb. 1, 1998, while he was spending the night in their trailer on the reservation. Several health care experts testified against Velarde, including a pediatrician and a clinical psychiatrist. Velarde appealed his conviction on grounds the court erred in admitting testimony of the pediatrician and clinical psychiatrist without first determining its reliability and relevancy. He also contended the court erred in admitting testimony of a woman who said Velarde sexually abused her 20 years earlier. The appeals court said, "Because we find that the district court erred in failing to conduct, on the record, any kind of reliability determination with respect to the government's expert witnesses, we reverse and remand."