A Florida woman faces up to 60 days behind bars after pleading guilty to deliberately coughing in a cancer patient’s face in a store – but is now reportedly asking a judge to consider the backlash she has experienced.
Debra Jo Hunter pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in the June 25 incident in a Pier 1 at the St. Johns Town Center in Jacksonville, where she berated employees and coughed on a woman who captured the incident on video, News4Jax reported.
The victim, Heather Sprague, told authorities that she observed Hunter upbraiding store staff as she tried to return an item she didn’t have in her possession, according to the news outlet.
Sprague whipped out her phone and began recording the heated encounter – prompting Hunter, 53, to make obscene gestures toward her.
“I think I’ll get really close to you and cough on you then. How’s that?” Hunter, who was not wearing a mask, is heard saying before she is seen coughing on the woman and then walking out of the store with her children.
Sprague, who described herself as a brain tumor patient and was wearing a mask, later filed a police report, saying she had not been feeling well since the incident, News4Jax reported.
On Monday, Hunter pleaded guilty after Judge James Ruth told her that he was ready to pick a jury. She also had agreed to plead guilty on two previous hearings, but the judge rejected them because it didn’t involve jail time.
Meanwhile, Hunter — who could get up to 60 days in the slammer at her sentencing – said she was not seeking “mercy,” but urged the judge to take into consideration the backlash she has endured since the episode.
In a three-page letter, she said her kids “continue to suffer indignities caused by my mistake […] embarrassed, chastised and mocked by both their peers as well as adults. Each of my three children have lost nearly every friend they had,” First Coast News reported.
She said her family had experienced several traumatic events in the months leading up to the incident, including a near-fatal boat accident and a house fire that destroyed their home.
On the day of the incident at Pier 1, she wrote: “My daughter was alarmed when she noticed a stranger recording the three of us with her phone.
“Admittedly I was immediately infuriated and demanded this customer to stop filming my kids. In the heat of the moment, I over reacted in an over protective manner which ultimately led to my retaliation on this stranger, the victim,” she wrote, according to First Coast News.
“And that highly regrettable, split second, knee jerk reaction has cost my family dearly,” she added.
Hunter also submitted reams of vitriolic messages she said she has received, including one that read: “Despicable, vile skank. I hope your whole family gets COVID and suffers immensely, then dies.”