The scheduled retrial of an Oregon defendant who was accused of committing a brutal hammer attack on a woman has been scrapped – with the defendant to walk free – because the key witness in the case said she won’t testify without wearing a face mask, according to a report.
Heather Fawcett, 41, of McMinnville, who authorities have said was attacked by defendant Pedro Sanchez, argued she doesn’t want to put herself at risk of catching the coronavirus by testifying maskless, OregonLive.com reported.
“It’s the second time I’m going through this trial,” Fawcett told the news outlet. “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?”
Crime victims’ rights advocate Rosemary Brewer said it appeared to be another instance in which the rights of defendants were placed ahead of those of crime victims.
“I’m concerned that the courts are not granting victims their rights with the same priority that they are for defendants due to COVID-19,” Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center, told OregonLive.com.
“The courts are not granting victims their rights with the same priority that they are for defendants due to COVID-19.”
— Rosemary Brewer, advocate for crime victims
In a previous trial, a jury voted 10-2 to convict Sanchez – but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that Oregon state law was wrong to allow convictions on verdicts that were not unanimous.
The retrial was supposed to begin this week, OregonLive.com reported, but Fawcett said she was told she could not testify while wearing a mask.
Fawcett said she was concerned about possibly catching the virus and spreading it to her elderly parents, both of whom are in poor health.
She said a Yamhill County deputy district attorney told her she could not wear a mask during the retrial because the defendant’s defense team had insisted on Sanchez’s right to meet his accuser “face to face,” in accordance with the state constitution.
A special mask that would allow the defendant to see Fawcett’s mouth could not be delivered in time for the retrial, Fawcett said a judge told her.
Many trials in Oregon have been postponed because of the coronavirus and many others have included virtual testimony, the report said. It was unclear why the Sanchez case was selected to proceed as an in-person trial that could potentially expose participants to the coronavirus, the report said.