Benito Vasquez-Hernandez, 59, has spent 897 days in the Washington County, Or., jail, reports The Oregonian. He may be the longest-held material witness in Oregon and perhaps the nation. He’s waiting to testify in a murder case. Legal experts are aware of no other witness jailed for so long. While no one appears to systematically track such cases, a law professor recalls only one similar instance, more than a century ago in California. Oregon judges can keep material witnesses in custody until they testify, or release them pending trial. Under state law, material witness holds have no expiration, but detention typically lasts less than a week.
Civil rights advocates say a witness should never be locked up for long, certainly not more than two years. As Vasquez-Hernandez’ his days in custody have turned into months and then years, prosecutors have successfully argued that his testimony is essential to their case and that he probably wouldn’t show up to court if released. His defense attorney has tried to get him out, devising a plan to take his sworn statement in a deposition so a judge could free him. “I sincerely regret keeping this man locked up,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Jeff Lesowski said during one hearing. “But I don’t see any alternative that is fair to these people,” he said, gesturing to the victim’s family members seated in the courtroom. “I’m trying to convict a man who has confessed to killing a mother. It’s not a real easy job. It’s not perfect.”