BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The prosecution has filed a response after a former Northwest Arkansas youth shelter employee charged with raping a minor resident filed a motion seeking to exclude certain testimony and evidence during his upcoming trial.

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 during a one-on-one outing on February 2, 2021.

On January 4, his defense team submitted its request to the court, stating that the prosecution’s intent to cite prior acts by De La Garza and opinions from his former co-workers present a “danger of unfair prejudice” as well as a chance of confusing issues and misleading the jury.

“The State is trying to introduce these events to show the Defendant’s character and
that he acted in conformity with these acts, which is attempting to introduce
propensity evidence which is strictly prohibited by 404(b),” the motion said.

In a January 13 response, the prosecution provided a detailed explanation of exactly the type of testimony it intends to elicit from those witnesses.

“The state may introduce evidence of conduct from multiple victims and co-workers of the Defendant’s prior bad acts under Ark. Rule of Evidence 404(b) in its case in chief, to which the Defendant is on notice,” the response stated.

The filing continued by citing specific acts by De La Garza that witnesses would testify about, including an alleged “intimate relationship” between the defendant and a minor who “according to the Defendant’s own statements would have been approximately 11 years old at the time of their relationship.”

Other incidents include his allegedly groping a 14-year-old while driving her to receive a COVID-19 test and entering the bathroom alone with a six-year-old girl. It also said that the state intends to introduce evidence of write-ups from the shelter “to show the Defendant being either unable or unwilling to follow shelter policy.”

“The State intends to introduce this evidence to show the Defendant’s plan, intent, opportunity, motive, knowledge, or absence of accident or mistake.”

State response to defense motion to exclude relevant evidence, State vs. De La Garza, January 13

It continued by citing relevant case law that has supported the inclusion of such testimony in similar cases. It concluded by asking the court to deny the defendant’s motion.

De La Garza is charged with one count of rape and his trial is scheduled to start on January 17. He has entered a plea of not guilty.