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Oregon hammer attack suspect walks free after woman refuses to testify without mask in court

A man accused of hitting Heather Fawcett with a hammer requested she appear with no mask. She said no, resulting in a Yamhill County judge dismissing the case.

YAMHILL COUNTY, Ore. — Heather Fawcett is living in fear in Yamhill County. That’s because the man once convicted of hitting her in the head with a sledgehammer walked out of prison on Monday.

"Last thing he said to me was, ‘I'll kill you and your dog someday,'" said Fawcett between tears. "I just have to be careful, be aware, carry mace and hope."

Fawcett’s is a complicated case. 

Its most recent twist wraps around defendants' rights laws and COVID-19. Back in 2016, a Yamhill County jury voted 10-2 to convict Pedro Sanchez of second-degree assault in the alleged attack against Fawcett. He was sentenced to almost six years in prison. But last year, that conviction was overturned after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Oregon could no longer allow convictions on jury verdicts that weren't unanimous. A retrial was scheduled for Monday, Jan. 25. Leading up to it, Fawcett said she made concerns over COVID-19 safety clear to Yamhill County Court officials.

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

Fawcett said Sanchez then filed a motion requesting Fawcett not wear a mask during the trial. The judge granted it under Sanchez's right to meet his accuser face-to-face.

In a statement, Yamhill County Judge Jennifer Chapman told KGW she didn't know Fawcett had safety concerns about testifying without a mask.

Fawcett, who cares for her parents who are both over 65, said she wouldn't risk their health or hers by going mask-less in the courtroom. She also said the District Attorney's office told her a clear mask wouldn't arrive in time for the trial.

On Monday morning, when Fawcett didn't show up to court, the state filed a motion to dismiss the case because of no witness availability. Judge Chapman granted the motion, but again said at the time she didn't know why Fawcett was a no-show. Later that day, Pedro Sanchez walked out of prison.

“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," Fawcett said. "I just don't think that that was fair."

Reached by phone on Friday, Chapman said Yamhill County Court takes COVID-19 precautions seriously and accommodates court participants to the extent reasonably possible. Asked what she would have done had she known about Fawcett's concerns about not wearing a mask she said.

"I don't know what I would have done because that was never brought to me," Chapman said. "What specifically we could have done in this case I just don't know."

RELATED: Gresham hammer assault suspect was jailed for similar attack in 2011

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