HILLSBORO, Ore. – A man who was jailed for 2½ years so he couldn't avoid taking the witness stand in his son's murder trial was freed Thursday after providing two hours of often-combative testimony.
Benito Vasquez-Hernandez committed no crime, but a judge ordered the 60-year-old Mexico native held because of fears he would flee rather testify against his son, who is accused of killing a suburban Portland woman in 2012.
Federal and state material witness laws allow for the detainment of anyone who might have information about a criminal investigation. Though the use of such laws is not uncommon, it is extremely rare for someone to be held as long as Vasquez-Hernandez was.
State law also requires compensation of $7.50 a day, so the father will receive about $6,000.
"I don't like to be in jail. I want to get out," Vasquez-Hernandez said shortly after taking the stand Thursday. He and his son, Eloy Vasquez-Santiago, both wore orange jail clothes.
Prosecutors allege the son killed Maria Bolanos-Rivera, a Hillsboro mother of six who disappeared in 2012.
Vasquez-Hernandez repeatedly told the jury he saw nothing, while a prosecutor reminded him of incriminating statements he made about his son three years ago.
"The witness is hostile; you may ask leading questions," Washington County Judge Don Letourneau told prosecutor Jeff Lesowski. "But don't argue."
Still, many of the exchanges made through an interpreter were testy.
Vazquez-Hernandez and his family moved to Madera, California, shortly after Bolanos-Rivera vanished. He said they left Oregon to pick strawberries and because an 11-year-old family member had to go to school.
Lesowski insisted it was to get away from the crime.
The prosecutor reminded Vasquez-Hernandez that he told detectives in 2012 that his son confessed, and that he saw blood on a van and on his son's clothes.
"You told police he threw a bloody knife in the trash," Lesowski said.
"No, that's a lie," the father replied.
"Sir, your voice is on a tape recorder," the prosecutor said. "Does that help you remember?"
Lesowski softened toward the end of Vasquez-Hernandez's testimony, telling the father he knows that testifying in his son's murder trial is probably the hardest thing he's had to do.
"You don't want to tell this jury because you know what's going to happen if you do," Lesowski said.
The son's attorneys point out that a body has ever been found, and say Vasquez-Santiago's confession to police was made under duress.
Defense attorney Tim Bowman elicited testimony that the father cannot read or write. Vasquez-Hernandez said he feels confused when more educated people speak and that he's scared of police.
After testifying, the father returned to jail, where he was processed and released. His lawyer, Alan Biederman, said Vasquez-Hernandez plans to rejoin his family in California.
Another one of his sons also was held as a witness in the case. That son was jailed for more than a year and a half before agreeing to provide a video deposition.
The father declined to provide a video deposition. He also did not have the $50,000 he would need to post bail.