Fifteenth Judicial District Judge Jerry Don Ramey denied a motion to move a potential jury case out of Booneville Friday.
The request was made, in connection with a Feb. 8 Booneville Democrat article in which the defendant, Daniel Valdez, 41, was reportedly accused of intimidating witnessed and admonished by Ramey to not engage in such conduct.
“I asked for a change of venue because my client resides in a small community and Mr. (15th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Tom) Tatum told the press on or about Feb. 7 and ran an article about my client,” said public defender Christopher Tollelson. “I don’t feel my client can get a fair trial from a jury of his peers in this community.”
The state disagreed and noted Tolleson was required to provide, in addition to his motion, affidavits from people in the community to affirm prejudice and that even then the judge could allow voir dire questioning to determine if the panel has or has not heard about the case.
“It’s their burden that there’s been so much pre-trial publicity that the potential jury pool has been so tainted that he couldn’t get a fair trial,” said the state prosecutor. “I think probably here it was inadvertent. I don’t think it’s an attempt to mislead the court but the statement (Tolleson) talks about is not a statement.
“Mr. Tatum did not have a press conference about this case. This has not been a highly publicized case. I doubt that there’s very many people who even know about it, unless it’s people who are involved. The statement (the defense) is referring to was in open court and the statement had noting to do with the evidence in the case. All it was was a statement between Mr. Tatum and you about he had gotten information that Mr. Valdez was intimidating witnesses. You simply instructed him not to do that.”
The prosecutor added he was aware of no television or radio coverage of the case either.
“The motion will be denied,” Ramey said and added he would address any potential knowledge of the case before the jury is seated. “It’s a small town, I agree with that but if (a potential juror) knows about the case I have a procedure that I bring people up without the jury as a whole individually so there’s no tainting of the jury.”
The defense also filed two motions to supress statements and evidence on which Ramey has not yet ruled.
The case is set for trial on March 17.