An Oregon man has been held in jail for nearly three years and may be the longest-held “material witness” in the history of the state, the Oregonian reported last week.
Benito Vasquez-Hernandez, an impoverished immigrant who speaks little English, was apprehended along with his son Moises Vasquez-Hernandez in the fall of 2012 as a so-called material witness in the disappearance of a woman named Maria Bolanos-Rivera.
Under US law, any person who might have valuable information about a crime can be jailed — in theory — only for as long as is necessary to have the witness testify or be deposed. Since September 11, 2001, however the US has used the statute to detain suspects without charge for indefinite periods of time, according to Human Rights Watch.
Oregon law says there’s no limit to the amount of time a material witness can be held in custody, but Vasquez-Hernandez’s case might be unprecedented.
“Over my 20 years of practicing law in the state of Oregon, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Vasquez-Hernandez’s lawyer, Alan Beidermann, told Business Insider.
The detectives who arrested Benito Vasquez-Hernandez believed that his elder son, Eloy, had killed Bolanos-Rivera weeks after their date had gone badly.
“The judge made a finding two years ago that my client had valuable information pertaining to the alleged crime and that he was a flight risk,” Beidermann said. “Since then, there have been a number of delays in the underlying trail that have postponed his release.”
“It’s sad and regrettable,” he added.
Prosecutors offered to compromise at one point last year and allow Vasquez-Hernandez to leave prison if he agreed to tape his testimony in a pre-trial deposition. The taping did not go past the witness oath, however.
When asked if he promised to tell the truth, Vasquez-Hernandez simply kept repeating “I didn’t do anything. I’ve been in jail. … I didn’t do anything,” until the frustrated judge had him escorted out of the courtroom, the Oregonian reported.
“I’m hopeful he will take the oath,” Beidermann responded when asked if he thought Vasquez-Hernandez would cooperate during his second attempt at a testimony — this time during trial — scheduled for later this week.
Vasquez-Hernandez indeed proved himself a valuable witness, telling detectives that he’d seen blood on the minivan Eloy had been driving the night of his date with Bolanos-Rivera. Hernandez’s other son, Moises, revealed that Eloy had admitted to stabbing the widowed mother-of-six before fleeing to Mexico.
At the time, detectives believed both Benito and Moises knew where Eloy had hid Bolanos-Rivera’s body. As a result, both were arrested on suspicion of “
hindering prosecution” and were promised release only if Eloy came forward with the location of Bolanos-Rivera’s body. Eloy ultimately turned himself in, but did not provide detectives with the information they wanted.
That was just over 900 days ago. Since then, Moises Vasquez-Hernandez has been released. His father, however, remains in jail.
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