SIERRA VISTA — 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.
By Alexis Ramanjulu
SIERRA VISTA — Test engineer George Broxton and a friend were standing right next to each other, miles away from the Saturn V rocket, when the five-engine space vessel started during a test run.
More than 50 years later, Broxton stands in his Sierra Vista home demonstrating how the sound pressure levels and vibration caused unexpected movement and temporary deafness.
“We couldn’t communicate with one another,” Broxton said. “We tried yelling but we couldn’t hear.”
Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s famous words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Saturn V carried astronauts Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin in the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in July 1969. The launch occurred July 16 at 9:32 a.m. from Cape Kennedy, present day Cape Canaveral, off of Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Armstrong, the commander, and Aldrin, the lunar module pilot, stepped foot on the moon, the first humans to do so, on July 20 — which according to NASA’s website was roughly 109 hours and 42 minutes after the initial launch.
“I was at church with my family,” Broxton said. “We hurried home so we could watch as much of the launch on the television. My biggest regret is not tape recording when it happened.”
The Apollo 11 mission lasted just over eight days but the preparation took years.
Broxton, 84, was one of more than 150 people working in the vibration and acoustics division, assisting NASA with preparations for Saturn V and their other projects as a test engineer.
“For me and thousands of others it was just going to work everyday,” he said. “My contribution was small.”
His first interactions with NASA and the space programs came in 1962, right after he graduated from Georgia with a freshly printed physics degree. Broxton was hired by Chrysler Corporation, which was contracted by NASA to help perfect the Saturn rockets in Alabama.
“It was just an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said. “It was boring work though.”
A year later he was hired by Brown Engineering, another company contracted with NASA. It was with his new company he was involved with vibration testing the rocket.
“It was general knowledge, you would be paid more working for a contractor than working for the government,” Broxton said.
Broxton said there were times he would be instructed to “shake to failure” because the higher ups wanted to know what would cause these different components going on to the rocket to fail in order to be better prepared and informed.
Broxton recalled putting a “safe and arm” device through testing. This device stuck out to him because it controlled the more than 10 explosives that were on the rocket. The safe and arm device controlled explosives, which were put on Saturn V as a precautionary measure so it could be destroyed it went off-target and threatened people.
Broxton also worked on the development of the lunar lander. These vehicles were not used during Apollo 11, but were sent on following missions with astronauts to help them travel once on the moon. These buggies had to be partially assembled once the astronauts landed, due to the large size of many of the components.
A total of 12 astronauts have stepped onto the moon during the six manned space flights that successfully made it to the lunar surface.
Right before the Apollo 11 launch, Broxton and his family were sent to Seattle, which didn’t make him happy because he wanted to be in the area during the launch. Even to this day, the scope of what he helped accomplish is elusive.
“It never really hit me (what I was a part of) until the 50th anniversary,” Broxton said. “(There were) 15,000 to 20,000 people that were going just as important work as I was.”