POLSON – The Lake County District courtroom was filled with red in support of 24-year-old Cassandra Harris as a Ronan man accused of pushing her out of a moving vehicle to her death changed his plea Wednesday.
22-year-old Joseph Parizeau entered an Alford Plea in Lake County District Court, but not to the original charges he faced in the death of 24-year-old Cassandra Harris.
Parizeau, who is from Ronan, was originally charged with one count of negligent homicide in Harris’ death.
In court documents, Parizeau is accused of pushing Harris out of a pickup truck that was traveling around 10 to 15 mph while they were on their way to McDonald Lake. Court documents also say that Parizeau, along with three others, left her on the side of the road even though they noticed she was injured.
The original charges against Parizeau changed when Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher and Parizeaus’s defense received a medical report that put into question the exact cause of Harris’ death.
“Is there any of the necessary medical expert testimony available to the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the causation element that the state must prove?” asked Lake County District Court Judge Jim Manley in court Wednesday.
“And that’s where I ran into a problem. We discovered last Tuesday the doctors said that there was no way that it could have happened that way. We do have a medical examiner who said, he’s in agreement with what the probability of the way my theory was that it occurred that way,” Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher replied.
“Is probability sufficient to meet the element of medical causation beyond a reasonable doubt?” Manley asked
“I’m very concerned that it would not be,” Eschenbacher answered.
For Eschenbacher, once it became clear that he could not prove Harris was killed as a direct result of being pushed out of the moving vehicle, he told Manley in court that he could not ethically pursue a negligent homicide charge.
He knows the decision is unpopular in the community and with Cassandra Harris’ family.
“You know that that’s going to be an unpopular decision in the community,” Manley asked
“It would have been very tempting to go along and ignore that, but I don’t feel I can,” Eschenbacher replied.
“Your ethical rules apply even if you know by your decision of following the ethical rules that you are going to subject yourself to considerable criticism,” Manley said.
“I am aware of that, that’s been made well known to me that people are unhappy with this decision but I have no choice,” Eschenbacher said.
Proving Parizeau guilty of negligent homicide might not be possible, but the county attorney’s office does believe they can prove criminal endangerment.
“Can you ethically represent that you believe that you do have evidence to prove all elements of that charge beyond a reasonable doubt?” Manley asked Eschenbacher.
“I do. I don’t think that there is any question that what the act was that Mr. Parizeau did raises a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death,” he replied.
Parizeau then entered an Alford Plea to the new charges, which indicates that the accused does not admit to the crime but acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to persuade a jury to convict.
He will be sentenced on Jan. 30.
Parizeau also faced three amended charges of witness tampering that have been dropped.