WA: Pierce County judge’s trial delayed until September

Friday, July 3, 2009 7:42 AM PDT
By Adam Lynn
The News Tribune

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Michael Hecht on Friday received a three-month postponement of his trial on charges he hired a prostitute and threatened to kill a man.

Hecht, charged with one count of felony harassment and one misdemeanor count of patronizing a prostitute, had been scheduled to go on trial June 8. He has pleaded not guilty to both counts and vowed to fight the charges.

Hecht, 59, has told the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, which also is investigating him, that the allegations against him are based on faulty evidence and some of his accusers are lying or gave incriminating statements against him under duress.

King County Judge James Cayce continued Hecht’s trial to Sept. 8 at the request of Hecht’s attorney, Wayne Fricke, who is in trial in Pierce County defending a man charged with murder.

Fricke told Cayce on Friday he doubts the case will be finished in time for him to adequately prepare to defend Hecht.

Assistant state attorney general John Hillman, who is prosecuting Hecht, told Cayce he would be ready for trial June 8 but did not object to the postponement.

Cayce’s been assigned to preside over the case so Pierce County judges can avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Cayce picked Sept. 8 as the new trial date because it appeared to be the earliest date that meshed with everyone’s schedule. He also set June 18 as the date to argue motions in the case, including Hecht’s request to move his trial out of Pierce County.

Fricke wrote in court documents filed last week that The News Tribune’s coverage of his client’s case “poisoned” his right to a fair trial in Pierce County.

Hillman wrote in charging papers filed earlier this year that Hecht exchanged cash for sex with one young man between April 2008 and January 2009 and last summer threatened to kill another man who claimed Hecht had paid him for sex.

On Thursday, Hillman filed a motion to admit into the trial evidence that Hecht committed other “bad acts” for which he’s not been charged.

That evidence, the assistant attorney general wrote, is necessary to show the charged crimes are part of “a common scheme or plan” by Hecht to pick up prostitutes and intimidate people who might report him for it.

“Evidence of the defendant’s past prostitution activities is crucial to allow the jury to consider how strong defendant’s motive was to cover up his past, by whatever means necessary, including threatening to kill those who were talking,” Hillman wrote in his motion.

He added that some of the conduct described in his motion was criminal but he couldn’t charge the judge with it because the statute of limitations had run out.

Fricke said Friday that he could not comment on the motion because he had not yet read it, but it’s a good bet he will fight to keep the information away from a jury by arguing it is not relevant to the current charges, that some of it is not true and that it unfairly prejudices his client.

Hillman wrote in the motion that he is prepared to offer testimony from:

• Five men who say they had sex with Hecht in exchange for money or favors since 1996. They are listed in Hillman’s motion as Bryan C., Joey Hesketh, John M., Joe Pfeiffer and Edward Smith.

At least three of them — Hesketh, Pfeiffer and Smith — are known to use illegal drugs.

• A Tacoma police officer, three downtown Business Improvement Area security guards, a downtown Block Watch member and five men who work or have worked downtown who say they’ve watched Hecht pick up known prostitutes or seen his car cruising in areas of downtown frequented by prostitutes.

• Two others — one of the men who allegedly sold sex to Hecht, and a downtown business owner, Albert Milliken — who say Hecht intimidated them on separate occasions.

Original on The Daily News

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