Man accused of threatening St Rose of Lima Church and school pleads not guilty

Parishioners say they would welcome him back
Posted at 5:19 PM, Nov 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-02 20:33:19-04

CHULA VISTA (KGTV) — The man accused of threatening St Rose of Lima Church and School plead not guilty at his arraignment Friday at the Chula Vista Courthouse.

During the afternoon proceedings Thomas Escajeda, 61, entered the courtroom and sat shoulders hunched, a frown carved into his face with eyes nervously panning the room.

No facts in the case were shared, and bail stayed at $100,000.

RELATED: Man accused of threatening South Bay church, school says it's all a misunderstanding

After the arraignment, Escajeda's attorney Adam Hepburn spoke on his demeanor, "he's never been in custody before, this is his first time ever being arrested this is his first time ever having this type of contact with law enforcement... He is clearly upset, it's a new setting it's very difficult."

Escajeda spoke exclusively with 10News from jail Thursday explaining it was all a big misunderstanding. He said he called the church office and wanted to help out with the All Saint's Day activities.

"If I could sell hot chocolate, and coffee maybe some donuts, I could make a killing because you know when you get up at 6:15 to go to church it's pretty cold," he said he didn't get to finish his sentence and wanted to apologize to everyone at the congregation.

RELATED: Chula Vista church receives threat against All Saints Day mass

When Choir Member Silvia Sotelo heard what he told 10News she was surprised, "so hard to believe that... I think when we call an office, I mean we don't tell them I mean okay I'm going to kill everybody because I'm going to make a good chocolate, I mean that is not that way that we talk when we make a phone call."

When asked if he should be punished, she replied, "It's not something I will decide," saying she wasn't the one to judge.

Escajeda is facing a felony criminal threat and misdemeanor electronic communications threat charges.

"We take these threats very seriously I can tell you that our office and several other agencies formed essentially a committee, or a task force, and tried to develop protocols for these situations so we can get out in front," Deputy District Attorney Christopher Blaylock said.

He could not say how long they've had the task force in place.

Hepburn said they didn't argue the $100,000 bail Friday, "In order to combat or contradict that we like to get as many facts as possible, speak to family, friends, and do our own investigation before we make a bail pitch."

Hepburn said the judge has to make a ruling on bail based on what has been presented so far in the police report, and take that as fact.

If Escajeda's not guilty plea stands and he gets out, Sotelo said she'd welcome him back, "we're all sons of God it wouldn't be any different with me."