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Innocent Oregon Man Kept in Prison For Years as Witness

© Flickr / Julie, Dave & Family59-year-old Benito Vasquez-Hernandez has spent 897 days in the Washington County Jail.
59-year-old Benito Vasquez-Hernandez has spent 897 days in the Washington County Jail. - Sputnik International
An Oregon man, charged with no crimes, has spent almost 900 days in prison waiting to testify as a material witness for his son’s murder trial.

59-year-old Benito Vasquez-Hernandez has spent 897 days in the Washington County Jail.  His bail is set to $500,000.

Legal experts explained to the Oregonian that while it’s rare to keep someone in custody for information as the state has with Vasquez-Hernandez, a judge can keep a material witness for however long it takes pending a trial date--a period that typically lasts around a week. Prosecutors need Vasquez-Hernandez’s testimony for their case, and believe he would not make an appearance if he were not held in state custody, according to the Associated Press.  He is poor, has no formal education, appears to have low mental competency, and does not speak English, the AP reported. 

His son, Eloy Vasquez-Santiago, allegedly killed a woman in 2012.  

Vasquez-Hernandez and his younger son Moises Vasquez-Santiago were arrested in Fall 2012 and put into state custody as material witnesses. The father told officials he’d seen blood in Eloy’s minivan, and Moises said his older brother had admitted he’d committed the murder. 

Three days after the innocent men were arrested, Eloy came forward and turned himself in.

Vasquez-Santiago was released after being diagnosed with schizophrenia while spending 727 days behind bars.

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Detective Joe Ganete of the Hillsboro Police Department explained to Eloy that he didn’t want to keep the family, understanding that they did not commit any crime, the Oregonian reported.

"I don't want your family to be involved in this, but they are witnesses that have to go to the court here and say that you killed her. Your dad has to testify. Moises has to testify."

"I can't let go of your family until I find the body, until I find the truth from you — all of the details. Because they're all witnesses that can tell me what you said to them."

Material witness laws in Oregon permit attorneys to seek a court order or warrant and hold a witness who’d deemed to present a flight risk. 

"We only ask for it in extraordinary situations," said Washington County prosecutor Jeff Lesowski, who's handling Eloy Vasquez-Santiago's case.

Eloy Vasquez-Santiago’s trial is set to begin March 17. 

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