In October 2012, a woman was held against her will, taped naked to a chair and sexually assaulted. This week, Cowlitz County prosecutors had the same woman arrested to help prove the case against her alleged captors.
The 43-year-old woman — the victim and prime witness in the case — has not been charged with any crime. She just wasn’t showing up for pre-trial meetings with prosecutors, despite promising to do so several times.
So earlier this month they obtained a judge’s order for a material witness warrant.
It’s a little-used procedure under state law that allows police to arrest a witness of a crime to ensure they show up for court. Chief Criminal Deputy James Smith said such warrants are rare and requested only “as a last resort.”
In this case, it had the added irony of using a warrant to hold the woman against her will so she can help convict someone else of holding her against her will.
Prosecutors said they can’t comment directly on an on-going case. Generally, though, Smith said the severity of the charges is always a factor in taking such a serious step.
The defendant in this case, Donald Howard McElfish, is charged with first-degree attempted rape, indecent liberties with forcible compulsion, first-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault with sexual motivation. His trial, which was supposed to start earlier this month, is now scheduled for March 10.
According to court documents, here’s what happened Oct. 5, 2012:
The woman was forcibly marched into McElfish’s living quarters by her ex-boyfriend Brandt Lyle Jensen. She was ordered to undress and Jensen — armed with a knife — taped her to a chair. Jensen told the woman to perform sexual favors for McElfish to pay off a supposed debt, implying she’d be hurt if she didn’t. Jensen left the room and McElfish attempted to have sexual intercourse with her. She later was able to escape and ran naked through the woods to a nearby home for help.
Jensen has signed a plea deal with prosecutors to testify against McElfish. He’s pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault, but has not yet been sentenced.
The woman (whom the Daily News is not naming because she’s alleged sex crimes victim) spent only one night in jail on the material witness warrant. She was arrested Tuesday afternoon and appeared in court the next day.
Deputy Prosecutor Amie Hunter told Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning Wednesday that the woman often sleeps on various friends’ couches and thus can’t be easily reached. The woman, though, insisted to Warning that she was now staying with her parents in rural Cowlitz County.
Warning let the woman go with an order to appear weekly at the Hall of Justice. She must appear more often if prosecutors request her to do so, he said. And, she must stay put at her parents’ home until the trial starts.
“Do you understand?” Warning asked. “If the prosecutors try to contact you and you’re not there, there will be another warrant out for you, and you’ll be going back to jail. And this time you’re not getting let out.”
As of Thursday, the woman had already missed one of her court-ordered meetings. When court officials contacted her parents, they said she hadn’t been in contact since before Christmas.
Barbara LaBoe covers courts and law enforcement for The Daily News. Reach her at 360-577-2539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.