The lawyer for Frank Hebert of Vineyard Haven, who faces a felony charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon — a Louisville Slugger baseball bat — cried foul after state prosecutors announced they would prosecute her client for striking an accused child molester.
Mr. Hebert, confined to an electric wheelchair, admits he struck Joshua Hardy of Middleboro in the right arm with that bat, following a conversation in Mr. Hebert’s computer store, Mac/PC Sales and Service, on State Road in Vineyard Haven, on February 22. Mr. Hardy is married to Mr. Hebert’s stepdaughter.
Mr. Hardy is currently jailed on $35,000 cash bail in the Plymouth County Jail. He awaits trial on five counts of indecent assault and battery on a child and one count of dissemination of obscene material.
Janice Bassil of the Boston firm of Carney and Bassil represents Mr. Hebert. Ms. Bassil, who owns a house in West Tisbury, said the expectation was that Mr. Hardy would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and not be available to testify as a witness.
“We lined it up with the idea that the case would be dismissed at that point, once we knew that for sure, because there was nobody to testify,” she told The Times in a telephone conversation last week.
Ms. Bassil said she was surprised when the Plymouth District Attorney’s office announced that it planned to proceed, based on Mr. Hebert’s statements alone.
“I was outraged,” Ms. Bassil said, describing her comments to first assistant Plymouth district attorney John E. Bradley Jr. “You are going out of your way to protect a child molester who has no interest in testifying, and you want to take this guy to court that is in a wheelchair.”
Cape and Islands district attorney Michael O’Keefe handed the case off to the Plymouth prosecutor, because Ms. Bassil’s firm represents Mr. O’Keefe.
A spokesman for the Plymouth prosecutor said the law must be followed despite critical public opinion. “As much as one may understand the sentiments involved in this situation, the police found probable cause that he has committed a crime and we are going to proceed with that prosecution,” Bridgett Norton Middleton, assistant district attorney, said in a telephone conversation with The Times Tuesday. “We did offer him pre-trial probation as reasonable disposition in the case and he declined that, so we will move ahead with the case.”
The offer would have meant no guilty finding and, if Mr. Hebert remained out of trouble for one year, the case would be dismissed.
“He is not going to take that, he didn’t do anything wrong,” Ms. Bassil said. “And I didn’t want anything hanging over his head.”
A jury trial in the case that has attracted national attention is scheduled for September 12.
Mr. Hebert maintains he struck Mr. Hardy to keep the accused child molester in his shop until police arrived.
On that February day, Mr. Hebert confronted Mr. Hardy with evidence that the latter had molested a three-year-old, whom Mr. Hebert regards as his granddaughter. At first, Mr. Hardy denied the accusations, according to Mr. Hebert.
“After a couple of minutes, he said, ‘Fine, I did it, what are you going to do about it’ and then started laughing,” Mr. Hebert told a reporter in a conversation following his arrest last February. “He got up to leave, and that was it, I hit him.”