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Request made to move trial
Request made to move trial
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Attorneys for accused killer Thomas M. Lane III have asked that the trial be moved from Geauga County.
Attorneys Mark R. DeVan and Ian N. Friedman filed a motion Friday in Geauga County Common Pleas Court asking presiding Judge David Fuhry to move the trial outside of the county.
“The pretrial publicity and community passion surrounding T.J. Lane’s prosecution has been as dramatic as any in Ohio criminal trial history,” the motion reads. “If there has been any case where presumption of juror prejudice applies, and the exercise of a change of venue to avoid such pervasive prejudice is warranted, it is this very case.”
Mr. Lane has been charged in the shooting deaths of three students and the wounding of three others Feb. 27 in the Chardon High School cafeteria.
Judge Fuhry said Monday he has yet to rule on the motion. Attorneys have asked for an evidentiary hearing on the matter.
In the motion, attorneys cited “prejudicial media coverage” and “heightened community emotions” as grounds for moving the trial. They cited the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution.
“The shock and grief experienced by the residents of Geauga County quickly pervaded the entire community and beyond,” Mr. DeVan wrote. “From the moment the shooting occurred, it and T.J. Lane have been the subject of a flood of new reports, opinion and speculation. Continuous media coverage, including extensive regional news, has resulted in media commentary, Internet blogs and commentary on commentaries.
“Any jury selected from Geauga County will necessarily have been exposed to this media onslaught. The result is that any local jury pool will be adversely influenced to the extent that neither voir dire (jury selection process), nor any jury instructions will suffice to assure T.J. Lane a fair trial … .”
Attorneys also cited a pervasive display of memorials in the Chardon and surrounding communities. “Every level of the community, from citizen to government, has shown support in the display of memorial symbols in what has been branded the ‘One Heartbeat’ memorial campaign.”
They cited red ribbons on “thousands of trees” and provided photographs of approximately 1,200 memorials located within a 5-mile radius of the Geauga County Courthouse.
The motion also cites 54 examples of media coverage, including blogs, slideshow tributes and photographs of the defendant.
“Not only has information been divulged as if actual fact, but speculative information, ongoing case updates and information about T.J. Lane’s home and personal life have also been released,” the motion continues. “Alarmingly, a significant portion of this information, much of it inaccurate, would not be admissible at trial for jurors to consider. However, potential Geauga County jurors have been repeatedly exposed to this information.
“As a result, prospective jurors are now aware of facts, although not necessarily admissible or true, affecting the defendant’s right to a fair and impartial jury. These potential jurors will now come into the trial with knowledge, whether accurate or not, that they would not receive at trial, knowledge that they should neither know about nor should they consider as jurors.”
Citing a passage from a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding change of venue, attorneys refer to a “huge wave of public passion” that creates an “atmosphere corruptive of the trial process.”
Residents, attorneys reasoned, cannot remain impartial in this atmosphere and any claims of impartiality “should not be believed.”
“The subconscious and conscious effect of pervasive pretrial publicity on a potential juror’s mind can be so overwhelming that when a pretrial publicity approaches the saturation level, courts must disregard prospective jurors’ assurances of impartiality and presume prejudice,” they wrote.
The memorials, attorneys note, can be compared to a public opinion survey “as they speak volumes as to where the community stands on all matters relating to Feb. 27, 2012. These displays do not appear to be ending anytime soon. The fact that the Chardon Healing Fund will remain open indefinitely to support the long-term healing of students, families and the community’ evidences this reality.”
Citing another federal case, attorneys wrote, “Here, community support is such that similar influences and peer mentality have naturally occurred and jurors will realistically fear or, at a minimum, be concerned about ‘returning to (their) neighbors’ with anything other than a guilty verdict in this case.”
Lane’s attorneys claim that no local juror can decide this case favorably for the defendant and reasonably expect to return to the community without any ramifications or scrutiny.
“Jurors talk, and within a small community like Geauga County, jurors might even fear for their own safety in returning to their community, a community that deeply mourns its fallen students and shattered tranquility,” they wrote. “A fear of verbal, emotional and physical repercussions based on how a juror decides a case can only weigh heavily on a juror’s mind, especially when that juror knows that he or she will return to the community.
“These considerations of community self-preservation have absolutely no place in a juror’s individual decision-making process, let alone a panel consisting entirely of local jurors facing the same potential concerns.”
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