Two prosecution witnesses who tested positive for COVID-19 and a third who is quarantined after exposure to the virus forced the postponement of McLennan County’s first criminal trial of the new year.
A 19th State District Court jury was selected Monday to hear the case against Fernando Rey Torres, a 36-year-old auto mechanic charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child.
However, Judge Thomas West informed jurors Tuesday morning he was postponing the start of testimony until Jan. 18 because at least three critical prosecution witnesses were not available this week to participate in the trial. In addition to those witnesses, a member of the alleged victim’s family also has been exposed to COVID-19 and would not be able to attend the trial, prosecutor Sydney Tuggle said.
McLennan County judges, mindful of the surge in COVID-19 cases, remain anxious to try to get the county’s stagnant criminal justice system back to a semblance of normality while following strict health-related protocols. As jury trials have resumed, county officials have limited the process to selecting only one or two juries per week to observe social distancing measures as much as possible.
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A defendant charged with injury to a child was set for trial in West’s court Monday. However, multiple tests indicated the defendant had a fever of 100 degrees or more and he was not allowed in the courthouse.
Meanwhile, at the McLennan County Jail, Maj. Ricky Armstrong said Tuesday the number of new COVID-19 cases there appears to be mimicking the overall surging activity in the county.
On Tuesday, there were 28 active cases among inmates and 20 among staff members, Armstrong said. Current totals remain lower than the peak total of 54 active cases among inmates when regular testing started in early 2020, he said.
The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reported 440 new COVID-19 cases among McLennan County residents Tuesday, with 2,008 active cases. The seven-day average positivity rate for tests was 31%.
The health district reported 77 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, up from 49 a week ago and 31 two weeks ago.
One new COVID-19 death of a McLennan County resident was reported Tuesday, bringing the total to 749.