A Florida woman is getting the justice she deserves after intentionally coughing on and threatening a woman diagnosed with brain cancer.
According to PEOPLE, Debra Jo Hunter admitted she meant to cough on the woman last June during their scuffle at a Jacksonville store. The incident was caught on camera and went viral.
Heather Sprague was later identified as the person at the end of Hunter’s assault and said she was out that day for a rare public outing amid the pandemic because her treatments left her immunocompromised.
Hunter has since been charged with misdemeanor assault. On Monday, she pleaded guilty to the charge, which took place on June 25 inside a Pier 1 Imports store, News4Jax reported.
Sprague filmed and posted her encounter, which stemmed from Hunter not wearing a mask and becoming aggressive with store employees. The film shows Hunter turning towards her with a two-handed obscene gesture.
“I think I’ll get really close to you and cough on you then,” Hunter can be heard saying on the video. “How’s that?”
“I was a little shocked to have her really kind of weaponize the threat of the virus,” Sprague told Action News Jax. “It was an act of aggression, and so I was really surprised.”
Hunter gave her plea following Judge James Ruth’s statement that he was ready to go forward with jury selection for a trial. She had already agreed to plead guilty at two previous hearings, but the judge rejected those pleas because they did not include jail time as an option.
A sentencing hearing will likely resume next month.
A three-page letter written by Hunter, a mom of three, to the judge spoke about the backlash she received following the viral incident. She attempted to explain her actions.
“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 overreacted in an overprotective manner which ultimately led to my retaliation on this stranger, the victim. And that highly regrettable, split-second, knee-jerk reaction has cost my family dearly.”
She also presented 23 pages of harassing texts, emails, letters, and social media posts she and her family received.
“Despicable, vile skank,” said one. “I hope your whole family gets COVID and suffers immensely, then dies.”
Her letter continued, “We no longer take family bike rides around the neighborhood. We no longer wave at neighbors passing by.”
“I realize this all may sound like a bad movie script,” she added. “I assure you, I never thought I would be playing a starring role in a social media feeding frenzy.
“I have been so incredibly humbled by this ordeal that I do not feel right about asking for anything. My guilt consumes me daily as I watch how one poor decision continues to chip away at my undeserving family.”
She concluded: “I often wonder what it would be like if every one of us, as the flawed human beings we are, had their worst moments reduced to a short video for all the world to see and judge.”