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Judge Hecht trial: Witness missing; prosecutor asks for postponement

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on Sep. 8, 2009 at 10:49 am |
September 8, 2009 3:21 pm

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Michael Hecht’s trial on harassment and prostitution charges has been postponed for more than a month to give the prosecution a chance to track down one of its key witnesses, who’s gone missing.

Visiting King County Judge James Cayce this afternoon granted assistant attorney general John Hillman’s request to continue the trial, which had been scheduled to start today with jury selection.

If authorities cannot find and arrest witness Joseph Pfeiffer between now and tomorrow morning, Hecht’s trial will begin Oct. 12, Cayce ruled. If by some chance Pfeiffer is found by the time court starts Wednesday, the trial will move ahead as originally scheduled, Cayce said.

Hecht’s attorney, Wayne Fricke, had opposed the delay, saying authorities have had “many months” to find Pfeiffer and ensure he appeared to testify.

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One of the prosecution’s chief witnesses in its case against Pierce County Superior Court Judge Michael Hecht is missing, and assistant attorney general John Hillman this morning asked to delay the start of the judge’s trial until police can track down the man.

Jury selection for Hecht’s trial on charges of felony harassment and patronizing a prostitute was scheduled to start today at the County-City Building in downtown Tacoma.

Instead, Hillman asked visiting Judge James Cayce to postpone the trial for a month so authorities can search for Joseph Pfeiffer. 

A material-witness warrant and a subpoena have been issued for Pfeiffer, who may be living in the Seattle area, Hillman told Cayce.

Prosecutors allege Hecht paid Pfeiffer for sex on a number of occasions during the summer of 2008 and earlier this year.

Pfeiffer, who reportedly is homeless and addicted to illegal drugs, told both the police and The News Tribune he took money from Hecht in exchange for sex.

His statements to police are the basis for the solicitation charge against Hecht.

Pfeiffer later provided a sworn affidavit to Hecht’s attorney recanting those statements.

Hillman told Cayce this morning that Tacoma police detectives have been searching extensively for Pfeiffer but have been unable to find him.

“I’m ready to try this case but for the absence of Mr. Pfeiffer,” Hillman said. “It appears he does not want to be served with a subpoena.”

Hecht’s attorney, Wayne Fricke, opposed delaying the trial. Authorities have had ample time to track down Pfeiffer, Fricke said.

“We’re ready to go to trial,” Fricke said.

Cayce recessed court until 1:30 p.m. today to give Fricke a chance to research the law and present a counter argument to Hillman’s request.

Hillman may be forced to dismiss the solicitation charge against Hecht if Pfeiffer cannot be found.

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