Former Lea County Sheriff Deputy Danny Surratt, 62, was found guilty by a Lovington jury on charges [auth] of first-degree criminal sexual penetration of a 9-year-old girl.
In September 2010, Surratt was arrested following reports of sexual assault on the 9-year-old and her 16-year-old sister. According to the criminal complaint filed in Lea County Magistrate court in August, between the two girls, there were four separate incidents that took place in April 2010, May 2010, May 2009 and November 2009. The original charges included two counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor, one count of attempt to commit criminal sexual penetration of a minor, two counts of criminal sexual contact and two counts of intimidation of a witness for both juvenile victims.
At the time of the alleged sexual assaults, Surratt was a Lea County Sheriff’s Deputy. To avoid conflict of interest, New Mexico State Police investigated the claims. Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matthew Chandler was appointed as special prosecutor.
Roswell’s Fifth District Court Judge Steven Bell presided over the trial. He ruled that the two cases would be tried separately.
The prosecutor elected to take the youngest victim’s case to trial first. The charges of criminal sexual penetration of a child under the age of 13 is a first-degree felony while CSP of child over the age of 13 is a second-degree felony.
During the trial, the youngest victim testified that Surratt sexually assaulted her and told her not to say anything about his conduct to anyone. The criminal complaint specified that she was warned if she told someone about the incident that he would hurt her.
A DNA expert from the New Mexico Department of Public Safety’s Crime Lab in Santa Fe testified that Surratt’s DNA was found inside the child’s underwear.
The jury deliberated for six hours before returning the guilty verdict late Friday afternoon. Following the announcement of the guilty verdict, Surratt was immediately taken into custody.
Chandler stated, “The victim in this case had her innocence ripped away by someone she trusted, but she was brave enough to stand up to him in a court of law. We are so proud of her for staying strong. We believe the jury rendered a fair verdict and hope it helps bring our victim the much needed closure and justice she so much deserves.”
Surratt’s sentencing hearing will be set within the next 30 days. A first-degree felony carries a sentence of up to 18 years followed by a lifetime of parole and sex offender registration requirements and supervision.
The second trial involving the allegations of the 16-year-old victim is still pending and will be set for jury trial in the near future.