JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The woman, featured in a viral video where she fingered another shopper and then coughed in the face at a Jacksonville mall, was sentenced to 29 days in prison for assault.
The ruling ended Thursday with hours of testimony and questions at the trial of Debra Jo Michele Hunter, the woman from Fernandina Beach, outside Jacksonville. It came despite an August objection agreement that consisted only of conditional probation.
Duval County Court Judge James Ruth first heard testimony from Hunter’s husband, friends and family saying she had a “really big heart” and was “heartbroken” about how she coughed on cancer patient Heather Sprague. But after speaking on Hunter’s behalf, Sprague told the judge about the confrontation that occurred just months after her brain tumor surgery.
Sprague said she watched Hunter, 53, swear at least 15 minutes of what she called “escalating bullying” and threaten Pier 1 staff with Sprague’s children nearby because of a broken item. It wasn’t until Sprague said she started making videos in the last minute of the tirade that she was yelled at and then continued to cough.
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After hearing the defendant’s four-page statement, Sprague said it was more about the impact the viral video’s prominence had on Hunter and her family, very “selfish” without apologizing to her.
“She gave herself permission to act that way when she decided to walk up to me,” said Sprague. “This was not the knee-jerk reaction of an overprotective Mama-Bear. It was a privilege and entitlement-based episode aimed at exploiting and attacking vulnerability, assuming immunity to consequences.”
Ruth then watched Sprague’s 40-second video clip, with an initial comment and a surprised “oh my” when he saw the rude gesture and cough. Then adding this “tirade” took longer than expected. Before deciding to include the jail term in the appeal agreement, he criticized Jäger’s testimony and letter to him, saying they mainly focused on the impact of the public reaction to the video on their family.
“Her kids didn’t create this problem, and her husband didn’t, and she talked about how it changed her world, and she got nasty grammes on Facebook and stuff like that, and they can’t go to their country club or anywhere.” always. “said Ruth. “But I haven’t seen any expression or significant expression of your regret at the impact it had on the victim in this case!”
Sprague was in the Pier 1 store when she saw Hunter getting mad, according to the arrest warrant. The victim recorded Jäger’s tirade on her cell phone. Hunter then made a rude gesture before asking if Sprague would like her to post it on social media. Then Hunter walked up to her and said she was going to “get very close and cough on you”, then did so on her face before leaving with a young child.
Sprague is a brain tumor patient with a weakened immune system that she posted on Facebook with her video right after the incident. She was wearing a mask and called the police four days later and said she had not felt well since the incident. She said she did not speak, respond, or speak to Hunter at all.
Speaking to the judge, suspect and her attorney, as well as the district attorney, Sprague said she lived in fear after the cough and felt spat on her face in an act that she said was “meant to hold me on mine.” to attack the weakest point physically and physically. ” psychological. “She said she spent days looking for a place to take a coronavirus test out of fear for herself and 10 children and turned negative.
“The intent of the defendant’s actions could only have been to transmit disease or to scare me that I was infected,” Sprague said. “I was concerned about the health and safety of my family and wondered how I could possibly isolate them to keep them safe in a house of 12 if I had been deliberately infected.”
During the first part of the hearing on March 24th, one of Hunter’s neighbors spoke in her defense. Speaking of Zoom, Tarry Rogers said Hunter was “deeply remorseful” for what happened and is still facing “collateral damage” from the event, as she just wanted to get away from the “awful moments”.
Six other people spoke out in defense of Hunter during the continuing Zoom hearing Thursday, including retired Jacksonville Police Commissioner Lt. Allen Eason. The family friend said he was surprised at what he saw in Sprague’s viral video. He knows that Hunter “didn’t do the best,” but that’s not the woman he knows.
Hunter cried and sniffed while wearing a mask and said the ensuing social media frenzy threatened many people when friends avoided her and her three children. She said her son was ostracized at school as “the son of the woman who carried the Scarlet Letter,” adding that her shame and regrets will follow her for the rest of her life.
“As a family, we together avoid anyone we recognize out of fear that they know,” she said. “The reality is that my family is permanently scarred. My children shouldn’t have to pay the price for my mistake. I can overcome marginalization. I deserve it. My children don’t.”
The prosecutor’s plea agreement also provides for withholding jurisdiction and a six-month conditional probationary period to encourage Hunter to complete an anger management program. She has to write a letter of apology to Sprague that she did months ago and reimburse the victim for the $ 150 coronavirus test she took after she coughed.