SANTA CRUZ -- A Santa Cruz County judge released an 88-year-old Santa Cruz man accused of child molestation Thursday after there were no available courtrooms.
Eric Frank Greene was set for a preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to hold him to answer for one felony count of lewd acts with a child. Greene opted not to waive time on his case, meaning his case has to be heard within a set amount of days.
But because there were no courtrooms available, Judge Paul Burdick released Greene from jail.
"He was in a no-time waiver so we had to put the preliminary hearing on," said prosecutor Rafael Vazquez. "He told his attorney that he would waive time and if he got released."
Greene still faces the child molestation charge.
Burdick used a variety of factors when considering whether to release Greene, said Aimee Buentello, Greene's attorney,
"Clearly judges only release people that aren't likely to flea, likely to re-offend or aren't dangerous to society," Buentello said. "Those are really the criteria judges use to release people."
Greene was arrested Jan. 22 on suspicion of child molestation.
On Thursday morning, Greene's hearing began in Judge Burdick's courtroom but was moved to Judge Paul Marigonda's court because Burdick was tied up with a murder re-trial. Marigonda recused himself from the case because he knew the victim's family. While the hearing might have been heard in Judge Rebecca Connolly's court, Greene's attorney would have challenged it to have it removed from her courtroom, Vazquez said.
The case ultimately landed in Burdick's court. Burdick, who has a murder case, ruled Greene be released in part because there were no judges available to hear the case.
But if Greene posed a real danger to the community, the judge would have found a place for his hearing, Buentello said.
"He's an 88-year-old man with zero criminal history," she said. "I think he'll definitely come back to court and face the charges and we'll proceed that way."
Although Vazquez said he was disappointed with the ruling, he understood the limited resources.
"I know the judge was limited," he said. "I know the reality is we just have a handful of courtroom for a ton of cases."
While Greene is out of jail, Burdick placed a number of restrictions on him, including not contacting the victim in the case, not having any contact with anyone younger than the age of 18 and not leaving the house except to go to the bank, grocery store or back to court.
Greene's preliminary hearing was moved to March 3.
Follow Sentinel reporter Calvin Men at Twitter.com/calvinmenatwork
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