September 28, 2022 707 PM
ALPINE — Hector Flores Jr., a Fort Stockton man who went missing with his 9-year-old daughter in February in Big Bend National Park, was found guilty of child endangerment in June and was sentenced to five years probation Tuesday morning in the U.S. District Courthouse in Alpine.
Flores was facing six months to two years of jail time and a maximum fine of $10,000. Deemed a flight risk, Flores was held without bond while the legal proceedings played out, meaning he has already served seven months in jail, exceeding the minimum sentence.
“We’re obviously pleased with the sentence,” said Flores’ defense attorney Shane O’Neal in an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel. “It was good that he got out of jail faster rather than later.”
As a part of the conditions for release, U.S. District Judge David Counts, who presided over the case on Tuesday, mandated that Flores undergo a psychological evaluation, mental health treatment and parenting classes. O’Neal inititally objected to mental health treatment requirements, stating while Flores might have a “libertarian streak,” there was no testimony in the trial relating to Flores’ psychological condition.
Judge Counts overruled O’Neal’s objection, stating imposed psychological evaluations and mental health treatments for Flores could result in helpful discoveries and recommendations.
Flores and his daughter, identified by her initials L.F. in court proceedings, were reported missing on February 5 in Big Bend National Park. Their abandoned vehicle was located by park volunteers and rangers off of the remote Old Ore Road. The father and daughter were found over a week later on February 14 having crossed the border near Boquillas Del Carmen in Mexico. An FBI agent who testified in earlier court proceedings estimated the distance from their vehicle to where they were discovered in Mexico to be a distance of 20 miles or more.
The prosecution for the case, U.S. Assistant Attorney Scott Greenbaum, argued Flores put his daughter in imminent danger by not providing adequate water, food, clothing and shelter during their journey. In a series of events leading up to their entrance and disappearance from the park, Flores had taken L.F. out of school a month earlier and never re-enrolled her, his phone service had been disconnected, and he quit his job at a supermarket.
A land and air search was conducted by state and federal agencies in addition to Mexican law enforcement. Upon discovery, Flores was taken to jail and charged with child endangerment and his daughter was taken into custody by Child Protective Services (CPS).
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is proud of the work and coordination between the National Park Service, the FBI, and the Mexican authorities resulting in the safe return of this child to the United States,” the office of the Western District of Texas said in a statement about the case.
At the sentencing hearing, Judge Counts deliberated over whether to limit or prohibit Flores’ contact with his daughter as a condition of his probation. But, upon a recommendation from O’Neal, the judge agreed the matter should be handled by CPS.
Custody of Flores’ daughter was given to his parents in February after his arrest. There will likely be future CPS hearings relating to Flores’ legal relationship with his daughter, said O’Neal. Flores’ family was not present in the courtroom on Tuesday, but both O’Neal and Judge Counts remarked on the support he received from his parents and daughter, who was called as a witness, at the trial in June. Flores himself did not address the court at Tuesday’s hearing, per a recommendation from O’Neal.
O’Neal said he plans to appeal Flores’ conviction on the grounds L.F. was never in real physical danger — Flores’ belongings included survivalist books and water purification tabs, plus the two successfully foraged for food in the desert, according to O’Neal. He said he will start the process of reviewing the trial transcripts soon, but appeals can take a while to play out.
“The government’s evidence wasn’t just sufficient to show that there was an imminent bodily injury. I’m not sure if it was sufficient to show that there was a deprivation of food,” said O’Neal. “I’m looking forward to writing the appeal. I think Mr. Flores would be happy if he could not be convicted of this type of crime.”