BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The prosecution has responded after a Northwest Arkansas man filed a motion seeking a new trial after he was convicted of rape and 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 formerly worked at the NWA Children’s Shelter and the rape allegedly happened during a one-on-one outing with a minor resident. He was found guilty in Benton County circuit court on January 20.

On February 23, his attorney filed a motion seeking a new trial pursuant to Arkansas rules of criminal procedure. Attorney Ben Catterlin wrote that the testimony of a witness introduced by the prosecution was “improper and reversible,” and he noted that the defense objected to it at the time.

The defense filing went on to address statements the prosecution made about the defendant’s attorney, saying that it made “several attacks” against him during its closing, using a reference to his physical stature as a “purely derogatory attack” to “inflame the jury about the cross-examination of the victim.”

On March 22, the prosecution filed a response to De La Garza’s motion, addressing points that the defense raised in that filing.

“The defendant seems to offer two additional theories to support his argument for a new trial,” the response said. “Both of these premises misunderstand the facts.”

The response cited testimony made by a witness during De La Garza’s trial, saying that “the defendant’s Motion mischaracterizes the evidence offered” by that witness and others. It also refuted the defense’s reference to another case.

It then referred to the defense’s objection to content in the prosecution’s closing statement as “a misunderstanding of the facts.”

“The State properly argued that the jury’s job is to determine what happened to
everyone involved as they weigh each witness’s credibility,” it explained. “When taken in context, it is clear that the State’s arguments regarding [the witness] are proper and not a basis for a new trial.”

The filing also addressed another comment made during closing by noting that it, too, was taken out of context and was a “proper rebuttal to specific defense arguments.”

The response concluded by asking the court to deny the defense motion for a new trial. Judge Brad Karren has scheduled a hearing on the matter for March 24.