(WOOD/NBC News) Most judges will say witness intimidation happens from time to time, and that it usually happens outside the courtroom where it’s hard to prove.
That wasn’t the case with a recent hearing being conducted in St. Joseph County, Michigan.
The hearing was being conducted over Zoom due to COVID-19 safety protocols.
Cody Harris was accused of assaulting his girlfriend, and a no-contact order had been issued against him.
Prior to the hearing Prosecutor Deborah Davis had been tipped off that Harris may be at the home of his victim, and would attend same hearing where she was testifying, but from a different room.
“Your honor, I have reason to believe the defendant is in the apartment of the complaining witness right now, and I am extremely scared for her safety,” Davis told the judge a few minutes after the hearing began.
The reason the woman let the suspect inside her home is unclear; Domestic violence victims are often prone to intimidation by their abusers and the demeanor of both the suspect and accuser helped confirm Davis’ suspicions.
“The fact that she’s looking off to the side and he’s moving around, I want some conformation that she is safe before we continue,” Davis told the judge.
Harris told the judge he was at a different home in the town of Sturgis. District Court Judge Jeffrey Middleton then set up a trap.
“I want you to walk out to the front of the house, show me the house number on the house,” Middleton said to Harris.
“Uh… why … I … I don’t even think this phone has the charge for that. Sir, I’m at like 2% right now,” Harris told the judge.
But Sturgis police were already at the front door of the victim’s home. Moments later, the Zoom hearing recorded Harris being put in handcuffs.
“You’re honor, me and (the victim) both don’t want the no contact. I asked that, that be dropped. I’m sorry I lied to you. I knew the cops were outside,” Harris appealed to the judge.
“Mr. Harris, my advice is don’t say anything else. Take the cigarette out of your mouth. The hearing is adjourned,” the judge said.
Harris’ bond was revoked. He faces additional charges and is being held in jail.
“We’re serious as a heart attack. It’s the first time I ever had anybody sitting in the next room, potentially intimidating a witness of assault, great bodily harm,” Middleton said.
Harris’ next court appearance is scheduled for March 16.