What had been scheduled as a sentencing hearing for a Wisconsin Dells man Friday ended with the dismissal of all four counts of burglary and fraud against him.
John Paul Herrera, 33, was arrested Aug. 10, accused of taking and cashing $1,500 in checks from his mother and her boyfriend. He was charged with felony burglary, unauthorized use of identification documents and two counts of forgery by uttering.
“I will be moving for a dismissal in this case,” defense attorney Tristan Eagon told Judge W. Andrew Voigt at the opening of the hearing.
Assistant District Attorney Troy Cross explained much of the criminal complaint was being disputed by the victim, Herrera’s mother.
That still left another alleged victim named in the complaint, but unaccounted for.
“The other victim has written in saying that he wants no restitution, and only wants to know the outcome of the case," Cross said.
Eagon called Herrera to testify, and she explained allegations in the complaint did not make sense. John Herrera was accused of breaking into his mother's home through a window, but he had a house key and a broken arm at the time, making his climb into the window less likely. Herrera also said her residence was her son's permanent address and he was welcome in the home any time.
The things that John Herrera had allegedly taken, his mother said, were things that already belonged to him or things she would have given him permission to take if she had been asked.
The case started with an Aug. 10 call to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office in which one of the sergeants was to contact an officer with the Portage Police Department.
The officer was at a Portage bank with Richard Hulburt, 24, of Holmen, and the owner of the checks that Hulbert had been attempting to cash from Herrera's significant other. Hulburt was charged with one count of burglary and two counts of forgery.
According to the complaint, the man told authorities that he had heard Hulburt had given Herrera a ride from the La Crosse area to the Dells while he and Herrera were out of the state on vacation.
On Friday, Cross explained that count one of the complaint against Herrera had essentially become irrelevant and the others difficult if not impossible to prove.
“It is stunning and I don’t know who to be more embarrassed for, or more disappointed in — the colossal waste of time that has gotten this case to this point in the process for, apparently, nothing, is really stunning,” Voigt said. “I don’t know if Mr. Herrera had anything to do with this, but the wholesale change in position of what I have heard today leads me to believe that the DA’s office should at least consider obstruction charges against the reporting parties.”
Herrera and her boyfriend had spoken to then-Assistant District Attorney Clifford Burdon about filing a non-prosecution agreement. Burdon directed them to the State Public Defender’s Office, according to Eagon, where, when she picked up the case Aug. 18, found them in her office with requests for a non-prosecutorial resolution.
“This is not effective use of law enforcement’s time, the District Attorney’s time, or this court’s time,” Voigt said. “This is typically not the way that the world should operate. “
“On our end, there was no confusion,” Columbia County Sheriff Dennis Richards said in an email, explaining his staff made all the proper checks through the process. “All statements and documents show at the time they did not give him their permission to do what he and another did.”
After the hearing, Eagon explained she believed something had been lost between what the parents were seeking and what eventually reached the District Attorney’s Office.
“I think it is just basic confusion. I don’t think there were any errors on anybody’s part — that this is a blame game — and I think that not enough information was provided to the judge today to explain that situation,” Eagon said.
"I'm pleased with the outcome of this case,” Herrera said via email. “I'm forever grateful to Tristan Eagon for advocating for me on this case, and looking forward to moving forward with my life."
Hulburt is expected in court next for a March 9 return hearing.