Unable to locate witnesses, suspect in Frisco stabbing goes free
August 29, 2018
How do you charge someone for a crime without any witnesses? That's the issue troubling the District Attorney's Office, and the reason an alleged stabbing in Summit County may go unpunished.
A 28-year-old woman and a 47-year-old man were arrested in the early morning hours of July 22 after an altercation with a transient couple behind the Summit Medical Center in Frisco left a woman stabbed in the chest. While the male suspect awaits a preliminary hearing in Summit County Court, the female suspect, who investigators allege was responsible for the stabbing, walked free.
The issue, according to District Attorney Bruce Brown, isn't a question of the underlying facts in the case, but rather witness reliability.
"This is a witness issue," said Brown. "When I learned that these people were essentially homeless, we had discussions about making sure we'd have witnesses available for upcoming hearings, including a trial. But I can't file a case if I don't have a good faith belief that we can prove the case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt."
On the night in question, a Summit County Sheriff's Deputy responded to a reported weapon call behind the Summit Medical Building at around 12:30 a.m., according to the warrantless arrest probable cause statement. The deputy was able to locate the suspects, who initially called the police. The report states that the male suspect was bleeding slightly from the neck and was initially thought to be the victim, but was later identified as a suspect by the other two parties.
The other couple told police that they recently befriended the suspects and set up their campsite nearby. That night, they said the male suspect was highly intoxicated and yelling loudly for no apparent reason. An attempt to confront him led to an altercation, after which the male suspect allegedly brandished a machete and began swinging it at the couple. He only relinquished the machete after being physically restrained by the victims.
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As the altercation escalated, the female suspect allegedly exited the tent with a small knife, reached it back behind her head and stabbed the other woman in the breast. The woman ran to the Summit Medical Center ER with a one-inch deep wound in her chest, but survived the encounter.
The suspects were arrested on scene. In the report, the officer describes the odor of alcohol coming from the female suspect and noted she admitted to consuming marijuana. This is notable because she was currently the restrained party in a protection order out of the Summit County Combined Courts and prohibited from consuming alcohol or controlled substances. It was later determined that the female suspect was also out of the Summit County Jail on misdemeanor bond conditions.
The male suspect was booked and later charged with four counts of felony menacing, along with four counts of misdemeanor reckless endangerment. The woman was originally booked for criminal attempt, violation of a protection order, violation of bond conditions and murder in the second degree. However, she was never formally charged, and released earlier this month.
According to Brown, this is because of a lack of reliable witnesses in the case. Brown said that the Sheriff's Office was able to make contact with the victims after the stabbing, and they said they intended to move camp soon. They scheduled an interview with law enforcement officers at the Summit Sheriff's Office, but never showed, and subsequent attempts to locate the couple have been fruitless.
Brown said that incidents like this are somewhat common — in that his office can't press charges because a witness is unwilling or unable to provide testimony — and helps to highlight the issues of prosecuting crimes related to transient individuals.
"One of the issues we have is with people who are living in the forest," said Brown. "Those people do, with some frequency, come into contact with the criminal justice system in some capacity. And it challenges our resources to marshal the facts and evidence necessary to prosecute a case."
Brown noted that the concern also applies to the male suspect's case. While he was formally charged, there are currently no witnesses to the incident aside from the female suspect. The male suspect has a preliminary hearing regarding the incident on Sept. 11, at which point the district attorney's office must prove probable cause to go to trial.
Still, Brown said that he's still pushing to prosecute the man.
"We have an investigation that is trying to locate the witnesses in order to prove the case against [the male suspect]," said Brown. "We've been able to get background information that those witnesses have prior contacts with the states of California and Missouri. But obviously, locating them is somewhat complex since they're transient. In the event we can't find witnesses, we'll review our case to find out if we'll be able to proceed. It's about whether or not we can prove facts sufficiently in trial."
Brown is also open to resurrecting the case against the female suspect.
"We're still interested in prosecuting the case," he continued. "This happens with transients, and it happens with victims that live out of the state or country. If they're unwilling to come back we can't file charges… but if the necessary witness comes into contact with us, or if we're able to locate them and we believe they're now reliable, then we can charge the case or proceed as we normally would."