Case of father jailed for 905 days as witness in murder case prompts legislation

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Emily E. Smith
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Friday, May 29, 2015
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The case of a father and son jailed for two years to secure their testimony in an Oregon murder trial has prompted legislation to prevent any witness from enduring the same fate.

Lawmakers this week passed House Bill 2316 authorizing a judge to order a pretrial deposition for material witnesses. Next, it heads to the Senate for approval.

With this bill, said Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, legislators hope pretrial depositions – which would emulate live courtroom testimony – would allow a witness to go free instead of waiting in jail to appear at trial.

The bill is inspired by what happened in a recent Hillsboro murder case: Benito Vasquez-Hernandez and his son, Moises Vasquez-Santiago, were held to testify against one of his other sons, defendant Eloy Vasquez-Santiago. The witnesses spent two years in jail before they were brought to court for pretrial depositions.

... Moises Vasquez-Santiago, who suffered a psychotic break in jail and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, testified then and was released after 727 days in custody.

But Benito Vasquez-Hernandez insisted he was innocent and wouldn't answer questions...

The 58-year-old father remained in lockup for another six months until earlier this spring, when he came to court on his 905th day in custody and testified that he knew nothing about the case. The judge then ordered his release. Legal experts knew of no other witness jailed for so long.

The bill would give a judge the authority to order a pretrial deposition for a material witness...

Under the proposed law, either a prosecutor or defense attorney could petition the judge to order a deposition, or the judge could order it without a request.

The bill wouldn't require taking a deposition or limit the length of time a witness could be held. But if petitioned, the judge would have 30 days to decide whether to order a deposition.

"I think this will solve the problem," Barker said.

In the Hillsboro case, Eloy Vasquez-Santiago was found guilty and sentenced to prison for the murder of 55-year-old Maria Bolanos-Rivera, a mother of six who worked in the local berry fields.