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Woman gets jail time for perjury

January 16, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Lying under oath is "probably one of the worst crimes to be committed," Washington County Circuit Court Judge John H. McDowell told a Hagerstown woman Thursday before he sentenced her to jail for perjury.

McDowell sentenced Jasmine Elizabeth Fitzwater, 23, of Hagerstown, to five years in state prison, but suspended all but 10 days of the sentence. She is to serve that time at the Washington County Detention Center.

Fitzwater was tried before McDowell on a charge of lying on the witness stand when testifying in March about an assault she had accused her boyfriend of committing.

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Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Gina Cirincion told McDowell that she had sympathy for Fitzwater for enduring physical abuse. But she said the court should not show sympathy in this case if it wanted to send a message that lying on the stand is a crime.

"She clearly lied under oath and that oath can't mean much if we don't punish them for lying," she said.

On Jan. 9, 2003, Hagerstown Police Department officers were called to 625 W. Washington St., Apt. 2, for a domestic dispute. Fitzwater told police she had been assaulted by her boyfriend, and showed police injuries that were in keeping with her description of the assault, according to charging documents.

A written statement and photos were taken at the scene, and Fitzwater later filed an ex-parte that matched her written statement taken at the scene, the documents state.

According to charging documents, Fitzwater appeared before a judge in Washington County District Court "and swore to the facts in the ex-parte and requested relief from abuse."

But on March 11, 2003, when her boyfriend appeared in District Court for his hearing, Fitzwater testified under oath that she lied about the abuse and did not want to follow through with the case, according to the documents.

Chris Gelwicks, Fitzwater's defense attorney, told McDowell Thursday that the woman feared her boyfriend, but that he was "some type of security for her."

"At the time this was going on, you had a very confused, very scared young lady," he said.

He said Fitzwater has a 3-year-old daughter who has been affected by the events that have occurred, but who needs her mother. Gelwicks said Fitzwater will be affected by the events every time she fills out an employment application and has to write down that she lied in court.

"Do we want to send her the message that what she did was wrong? She knows that, she understands that. She's sitting there crying," he said.

Fitzwater sobbed throughout the trial.

Heather Bennett, who works with Fitzwater, stood up in court to say she's known the woman for many years.

"She's not a terrible person. She made a mistake," she said.

McDowell agreed. He said the way he saw it, Fitzwater had three choices: She could have testified and told the truth, not testified or testified and lied.

"You've destroyed the matter with which justice is to be handed out and now you're prohibited to testify because of what you did," he said.

After Fitzwater serves her sentence, she will be placed on two years probation, during which time she is to have no contact with the man in question. She also was ordered to take medications prescribed by a mental health provider, enroll in and pay all required costs of a CASA victims program and a mental health treatment program.

Should Fitzwater violate any of her probation requirements, McDowell said he would impose the part of her sentence that was suspended.

"Incarceration is necessary to understand how important the oath is and why we have the oath in court," he said.

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