Former jail chaplain accused of molesting female inmates will stand trial locally

By Lyda Longa
Herald Review
July 18, 2019


A former county jail chaplain accused of sexually assaulting female inmates will stand trial in Cochise County and will be prosecuted by the county attorney’s office, Superior Court Judge Laura Cardinal ruled Thursday.

Cardinal also said she would issue a ruling on whether to seal online information concerning the case against defendant Douglas Packer after his attorney Jacob Amaru stated that potential jurors could be influenced by the information.

“People can come to the hearings and listen to the case, they are open to the public, but seeing the information online could taint a potential juror,” Amaru said.

The defense attorney had filed motions requesting that Packer, 64, be tried outside Cochise County. At the hearing Thursday, Amaru blasted Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, saying the sheriff’s public comments about Packer have tarnished the case. Amaru also had argued that his client should not be prosecuted by the Cochise County Attorney’s Office because Packer had been a county employee.

“The sheriff is out there making statements about Packer’s guilt and there’s no coming back from that,” Amaru said. If we didn’t believe in the sheriff and what the sheriff is saying, then we have a big problem.”

Dannels said Amaru’s criticism of his comments is aimed at taking the focus away from Packer.

“We need to stay focused on what he’s been indicted on, the offenses and the victims,” Dannels said. “I can’t control what a defense attorney says. I can only control what I said and I stand behind what I said.”

Chief Criminal Deputy County Attorney Lori Zucco said anything Dannels may have said to the media or elsewhere about the case was long ago.

“I don’t even remember them personally,” Zucco said.

As for whether the county attorney’s office would have a conflict prosecuting Packer because he is a former Cochise County employee, Zucco said she does not know the defendant and has never represented him.

Packer was a ministry volunteer at the county jail in Bisbee from 2008 until his hiring as detention center chaplain in 2012. He was recognized as Chaplain of the Year by the Arizona Detention Association in 2015.

That all ended on Jan. 5 when he was relieved of duty following allegations by two female inmates. Detention officer Lt. Christy Heisner notified superiors after talking to the inmates on Jan. 4. Cochise County Sheriff’s detectives Todd Borquez and Jesus Davidson investigated and arrested Packer the next day.

On Jan. 14, Packer pleaded not guilty to the January charges brought by two of the women. Bail was set at $250,000, but then increased to $550,000 when four other inmates came forward will allegations.

Court files show Packer stands accused of sexual assault, sexual abuse, kidnapping, aggravated assault, unlawful sex acts while employed within the county correctional facility and indecent exposure. The accusations were made by six female inmates whose names have not been released. The allegations against Packer date to 2014.

Cardinal agreed that a questionnaire would be sent to respective jurors in order to determine if any have been tainted by publicity about the case. But the judge also stated that media reports about Packer have been based on court proceedings and have been accurate. Cardinal also said the county attorney’s office had no direct relationship with Packer.

“I do not believe the defendant can show prejudice at this point in time,” the judge said.

Packer, who remains in custody at the Santa Cruz County Jail, was not in court Thursday. Amaru said the trip from the jail to the courthouse in Bisbee is too arduous for his elderly client.

On Thursday, trial dates were set for the cases of two of the two the accusers. The first trial is slated to begin on Jan. 21; the second on Feb. 10.

A hearing on Oct. 17, will determine whether the cases of two other accusers will be combined with these trials.

Amaru said that if his client is convicted in the first two trials, the county could offer him plea deals in the other cases.

“If he is convicted, he would probably be in prison for life,” Amaru said.




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