Case dismissed after accused attacker demands victim testify without mask and she refuses

YAMHILL COUNTY, OR – A victim’s refusal to testify without her mask resulted in the dismissal of a case where the suspect was accused of brutally attacking the woman with a sledgehammer.

Heather Fawcett, 41, was allegedly attacked and beaten on the head with a sledgehammer by Pedro Sanchez, who was convicted of second-degree assault in 2016 by a jury vote of 10-2 and sentenced to nearly six years in prison.

However, due to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last April, Oregon was no longer allowed to permit convictions in cases without unanimous verdicts. As a result, Sanchez’s 10-2 conviction was overturned and a retrial was scheduled for Jan. 25, according to a report by KGW8 News.

Fawcett told the news station that she had informed Yamhill County Court officials months ago of her concerns about contracting COVID-19 and that she would need to wear a mask:

“I told them four months ago I would not enter any courtroom without a mask on under any circumstances, no matter what happened.”

Fawcett also had extra concerns because she cares for her parents, who are both over the age of 65, according to KGW8 News.

According to Fawcett, Sanchez then filed a motion requesting that she not wear a mask during the retrial. Yamhill County Judge Jennifer Chapman granted it under Sanchez’s right to meet his accuser face-to-face.

Olcott Thompson, attorney for Sanchez, told The Oregonian:

“Mr. Sanchez has the right to confront his witnesses. Part of what the jury needs to see is the faces of the witnesses while they’re testifying.”

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Oregon is one of several states with mandatory mask orders in effect, but judges have discretion in ordering removal of the masks to adhere to the “face-to-face” requirement.

Chapman then ordered that any witnesses involved in the case needed to wear a clear face shield instead of a mask while testifying.

Fawcett claimed she asked the District Attorney’s office if she could wear a clear mask instead. The District Attorney’s office told her a clear mask would not arrive in time for the trial, according to Fawcett.

As a result, since Fawcett refused to testify maskless, she did not appear in court. This led to the state filing a motion to dismiss the case due to no witness availability.

The only two other witnesses to the attack — Fawcett’s then-boyfriend and his brother — have both since died, according to a report by the New York Post.

Fawcett said:

“It’s the second time I’m going through this trial. And now you’re gonna tell me I have to expose my friends and my family and people I care about and myself to this virus?”

According to KGW8 News, Chapman granted the motion, and later in the day Sanchez walked out of prison.

Fawcett told the news station:

“I just don’t see how it ever should come down to a decision of whether I wanted to be safe from COVID or safe from the person who hit me with a sledgehammer. I just don’t think that that was fair.”

KGW8 then contacted Judge Chapman, who said her courtroom takes COVID-19 precautions seriously and accommodates court participants to the extent reasonably possible. 

Chapman denied being aware of Fawcett’s safety concerns about testifying maskless when she granted the motion. When KGW8 asked Chapman what she would have done if she had known about Fawcett’s safety concerns, she replied:

“I don’t know what I would have done because that was never brought to me. What specifically we could have done in this case, I just don’t know.”

Now Fawcett is very concerned for her safety since Sanchez is a free man. She told KGW8:

“Last thing he said to me was, ‘I’ll kill you and your dog someday.’ I just have to be careful, be aware, carry mace and hope.”

Rosemary Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center, told New York Post that ordering the removal of masks jeopardizes the rights of crime victims in the state:

“I’m concerned that courts are not granting victims their rights with the same priority that they are for defendants due to COVID-19.”

Nationwide, COVID-19 has resulted in inmates being released prematurely from jails and prisons in an attempt to “stop the spread” of the virus.  In December, we reported about a California sheriff who warned that the public should be worried about the early release of inmates. Here is that report.

ORANGE COUNTY, CA – Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes spoke out about his concerns regarding a recent court order instructing the Orange County Jail to reduce the inmate population by 50% in light of the pandemic.

And what the sheriff said of the debacle is that the local public “should be in a panic.”

Apparently a California court has deemed the Orange County Jail to be overcrowded in respect to maintaining a semblance of pandemic observations.

But Sheriff Barnes says that there’s more to worry about rather than a possible caveats associated with a facility that is perceived as crowded during a pandemic:

“The public should be in a panic, and they should be concerned about this release.”

This endeavor could see more than 1,800 inmates get released, some of whom could very well be violent. Sheriff Barnes says that if the jail abides by the court order, then the public would then be at risk from something more than just the virus:

“These aren’t low-lying offenders, these are people in for very serious offenses: murder, attempted murder, domestic violence.”

The man behind the order is Orange County Civil Court Judge, Peter Wilson, who reportedly sided with the ACLU, who filed the lawsuit with concern about inmates spreading coronavirus in congregated living areas.

When Judge Wilson reviewed the case, he proclaimed that the jail isn’t poised to provide proper social distancing with the number of inmates currently being housed.

The judge ordered a 50% reduction in the inmate population, translating to a total of 1,858 inmates released. Yet, according to Sheriff Barnes, only about 700 inmates are what the CDC would consider to be high-risk for the virus:

“Of just those who are medically vulnerable based on CDC guidelines, that’s 700 inmates in our care. There are 59 of them in for murder, another 39 for attempted murder, and 90 of them in for child molestation and a litany of other violent crimes.”

The jail isn’t currently operating at full capacity either. Sheriff Barnes stated that more than 1,300 inmates have already been released since the pandemic was declared earlier this year.

n the interest of public safety, Sheriff Barnes is fighting back and appealing the order. Furthermore, he says that if a judge wants to release inmates, then that judge better be the one to pick and choose every inmate by name:

“If this judge is going to order the release of individuals entrusted in my care who I believe present a significant threat to the public, he will have to identify each one of those by name and order their release pursuant to his authority, not mine.”

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Author: G. Weg

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