Tahlequah Daily Press

January 24, 2013

‘Victim’ won’t give up trying to exonerate her father

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Christina Begay says she won’t give up trying to convince others her adoptive father is innocent of child sexual abuse, though he was convicted last September of that charge.

“While I realize the officers of the court have a job to do, and for the most part do it well, I believe sometimes mistakes can [be] and are made,” Christina Begay recently told the Daily Press. “Mankind is not perfect, after all. I believe it takes a special person to uphold the law, but it takes a stronger person to correct it when it fails.”

Stacey Begay was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison for having sexual relations with his daughter. But Christina now claims she was denied an opportunity to tell others her father never touched her.

The problems surfaced April 21, 2011, she said, when Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies arrived at the Begay family residence for a disturbance. Christina claims the deputies and an investigator told her and her father to write in their statements that they had been having sex, even though they both denied it had happened.

Christina said the problems continued when state officials failed to notify her of certain court appearances for her father. She believes that omission was an attempt at keeping her from saying her father never touched her.

She was placed into protective custody by the Department of Human Services after her adoptive parents – Stacey and Terry – were arrested in 2011. Assistant District Attorney B.J. Baker knew where Christina was staying until she turned 18 in July 2012.

“I tried several times to go to my dad’s court [appearances] so I could tell the judge the truth, that my dad has never touched me and he is innocent of the charges that DA Baker was charging him with,” said Christina. “The only way I could find out [about Stacey Begay’s court appearances] was through Internet or by contacting my mom, which, once DHS found out, they would try and cut off access to both.”

Baker said he arranged for Christina to be brought to Tahlequah the date of Stacey Begay’s preliminary hearing. The District Attorney’s Office does not typically notify victims or witnesses of other appearances unless requested to do so, due to the number of court dates defendants usually face, Baker said.

Christina claims Baker, on the date of her father’s preliminary hearing, acted “annoyed” when she told him she planned to deny anything happened between her and her father. She claims Baker threatened to put both of her parents in prison for life, and take Christina’s baby away.

“I was scared, but I still wanted to tell the truth,” Christina said.

Baker then left Christina in his office and was gone for about an hour, she said. When he returned, Baker explained to Christina she wasn’t needed for the preliminary hearing.

“As I was getting up to leave his office, DA Baker told me, ‘I won’t let him get away with this,’” said Christina.

Christina was then taken back to the home where she was living, and claims she was given extra chores and had her privileges revoked when she refused to talk about what happened at the courthouse. She later sent a written confession to Baker, a judge, and Stacey Begay’s attorney, A.J. Garcia. When house parents where she was staying found out about the letter, she was told she would not be allowed back in court, Christina claims.

Baker confirmed he didn’t need Christina for the preliminary hearing, and instead corroborated Stacey Begay’s confession with Terry Begay’s testimony about what she did when she arrived at home in April 2011 and found Christina and Stacey together.

Baker said that during the meeting in his office, he encouraged Christina to stay in protective custody after turning 18 so she could take advantage of the state’s resources, including help with college tuition.

“I was truly concerned for her welfare and future, especially given the extreme extenuating circumstances she has had during her young life,” said Baker. “I encouraged her to make a plan for her future.”

Baker said he did tell Christina her baby could be taken away if she turned 18 and moved back in with her parents. That statement, he said, was based on the charges Christina’s father was facing at the time, which seemed to indicate Stacey Begay was a “sexual predator.” The entire conversation with Christina, Baker said, was conducted in the presence of a DHS employee.

“I did believe she was lying to me, and told her the implications of perjury and false reporting of a crime,” said Baker. “I told her that my job as a child-abuse prosecutor is to not only protect the child, but to seek justice on behalf of the state. I told her that even though she was willing to look past what had happened, and was willing to make that sacrifice to have her family – mom and dad – back, that I, as a state prosecutor, could not let a man have sex with his adopted minor daughter, no matter how bad that child longed for a family to love her. I told her that I could proceed with the charges against her father … without her testifying.”

He also told Christina that once she turned 18, and if she left state protection, she would need to contact the DA’s office with her new phone number and address. But Baker said Christina left the home and never contacted the DA’s office. Baker didn’t hear from Christina from the time she turned 18 until the day Stacey Begay was formally sentenced; Baker said he assumed she had moved back in with her mother.

Christina contacted the office of her father’s attorney before Stacey went before a jury in September, even though she hadn’t left her contact information with the DA’s office , according to Baker.

“Mr. Garcia provided the court with a letter written by Christina expressing her position that her father … had not done the crime he was charged with and nothing had happened to her,” said Baker. “I assumed that since Mr. Garcia was in contact with [Christina], that she would appear as a defense witness for jury trial. Our office had no known address in which to subpoena her; however, our office had prepared for her testifying as a defense witness.”

Christina claims Baker eventually began to “go after” Terry Begay, threatening to charge her with assault with a deadly weapon based on the alleged shots she fired at her family in 2011. But Baker said he never intended to charge Terry.

“I never went or was ‘going after’ her mom, which is evident by not having charged her mom during this whole process,” said Baker. “I never said that I would prosecute her mother. From the beginning, the mother … has been dealt with much compassion by this office due to her distraught and emotional condition after catching her husband having sex with her daughter.”

Christina said her mother wanted to “plead the Fifth” during Stacey’s trial, but was instead granted immunity in exchange for her testimony.

“At no time did anyone talk with my mother about the case,” said Christina.

During both the preliminary hearing and jury trial for her husband, Terry Begay took the stand and told the court she could not remember much of what happened in 2011 because she suffers from both primary and secondary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She told the court her PTSD leaves holes in her memory.

After testifying at Stacey Begay’s trial in September, Terry was arrested when District Judge Darrell Shepherd said she had apparently falsified parts of her testimony. Terry is now facing a charge in Cherokee County District Court of contradictory statements as perjury.

Christina said she’s now on a mission to tell others what happened in 2011 and in the weeks and months following her parents’ arrests. She says she’s been called a “liar” by prosecutors, a caseworker, and a judge.

“I never gave much thought to the statement ‘the truth will set you free’ until now,” said Christina. “… As I look around our society and world today, I see that the truth does not matter anymore. I was taught that the truth always comes to light sooner or later. It just needs a voice, and that is what I intend to do here - bring the truth to light.”

Christina’s mother told the Press her daughter has been living in fear since she turned 18 last July.

“She’s terrified Baker will take the baby from her,” Terry said. “He can say whatever he wants to say, but the kind of fear [Christina] is living with right now doesn’t just come out of nowhere. She has not applied for food stamps, [Women, Infant and Children], jobs, anything, because she’s terrified he’s going to find her and then find the baby. As afraid as she is, she’s wanting to set this right, and she’s looking for someone to help, to step in, to hear her... .”

Christina said she understands what has happened and is capable of speaking up on her own.

“Again, this is my very own decision [to speak about the case publicly]. Regardless of what ADA Baker or anyone else thinks, I am not a child; I am a young woman who is capable of understanding the situation and making the right decision,” said Christina.

Christina said she doesn’t understand how her father was convicted “with just a police report – no physical evidence, no nothing else.”

“Somehow, I don’t understand how they got him 30 years with no probation with just a police report,” Christina said.

According to a pre-sentence report filed by the state’s Department of Corrections before Stacey Begay was formally sentenced, officials spoke with him in October. Stacey reportedly denied at that time that he ever had sexual contact with Christina and said his written statements to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office differ from his current story because “all parties involved suffer from PTSD.”

He also reportedly told state officials Christina “knows how to work the system,” and added she had falsely accused previous foster parents of assaulting her.

Stacey also said he might have been under the influence of medication when he wrote statements for sheriff’s deputies in 2011 saying, in detail, he and Christina had a sexual relationship.

Court records show a hearing has been set for Feb. 7 at 3 p.m. to address Stacey Begay’s motion for a new trial.