BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A former Northwest Arkansas children’s shelter employee was found guilty of raping a minor resident during a one-on-one outing and was sentenced to life in prison.

Hunter De La Garza, 24, was arrested for rape on February 26, 2022, after an investigation by the Rogers Police Department. According to a probable cause filing, De La Garza allegedly raped a minor girl in the bathroom at the Promenade Mall in Rogers on February 2, 2021.

De La Garza’s trial began in Benton County circuit court with jury selection on January 17. Prosecuting attorney Nathan Smith made a statement on January 20 following the conclusion of the trial.

“Today, the jury gave the Defendant a life sentence for the rape of an innocent girl who should have been able to trust him.  Our community owes its thanks to the Rogers Police Department and deputy prosecutors Josh Robinson and Seth Segovia for their tireless work in a difficult case.  

I hope this verdict brings a measure of healing to this survivor and serves as a warning to those who would prey on children that juries in Benton County believe in strong punishment for these monstrous crimes.”

Nathan Smith, Benton County prosecuting attorney, January 20

The victim was interviewed at the Children’s Advocacy Center on April 9, 2021 and confirmed that De La Garza raped her. She offered explicit details of what he did to her, describing an encounter in a mall bathroom.

An NWA Children’s Shelter supervisor stated that De La Garza had worked there for a little over a year. She said that there were “several issues” with him and he was eventually fired. The “issues” included his making racial remarks and entering a bathroom with a minor girl.

During the investigation, De La Garza volunteered to take a polygraph test, so two officers administered a computer voice stress analysis with his consent. He was asked two questions and when officers informed him that he “did not respond truthfully,” De La Garza replied that the test “did not go the way he wanted.”