Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Geauga County Common Pleas Judge David Fuhry has deferred a defense request to transfer T.J. Lane’s aggravated murder trial from Geauga County, calling it “premature.”
Lane, who turns 18 tomorrow, is scheduled to be moved from the Portage-Geauga Juvenile Detention Center to the county jail on Monday.
His attorneys had argued Lane would be unable to obtain a “fair and impartial jury as a result of extensive and prejudicial media coverage and because of heightened community emotions as a result of the events, which form the basis of the charges herein.”
The accused Chardon High School shooter, who opened fire Feb. 27 in the high school cafeteria, killing three students and wounding three others — paralyzing one from the chest down — faces three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of felonious assault.
Neither Lane's defense attorney, Mark DeVan, nor Geauga County Prosecutor David Joyce could be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The prosecution asserted no change of venue was warranted without first attempting to seat a jury and asked Fuhry to try to seat a jury before ruling on the defense request.
The defense contended, however, any attempt to seat an impartial jury in Geauga County would be a vain act.
However, on Friday, Fuhry dismissed the defense claims, saying “the court does not agree that being exposed to such pretrial publicity necessarily and inexorably leads to an inference that those exposed to it cannot be fair, impartial and indifferent.”
“It is premature for the court to transfer this case without attempting to seat a jury in Geauga County,” Fuhry wrote in his ruling. “There is no clear and manifest showing that it would be a vain act to try to seat a jury.”
In support of their motion, filed Aug. 17, Lane’s defense counsel submitted four volumes of evidence including newspaper articles, television broadcast transcriptions, sample “One Heartbeat” artifacts and photographs of approximately 1,200 memorials located within a 5-mile radius of the Geauga County Courthouse.
They alleged the documents and photographs rendered it impossible for the court to protect Lane’s right to a fair and impartial jury in the county.
Fuhry disagreed, finding that the jury selection process provided “the best test” of whether prejudicial pretrial publicity would prevent Lane from receiving a fair trial.
“The materials filed with the four volumes of exhibits in large part demonstrate an ambiguity as to community sentiment which can only be resolved through voir dire,” he wrote. “On the one hand, much of the publicity could be attributed solely out of a grief over the loss of life involved in the incident, and not animosity toward the defendant. It could also be considered ‘adverse and prejudicial’ publicity if it’s affect on a prospective juror is such that the juror harbors a pre-conceived notion of guilt.”
Fuhry concluded, “Only voir dire (the questioning of jurors) can reveal if an impartial jury can be assembled.”
The court has not set an actual trial date.
Fuhry has scheduled an attorney conference in his chambers for 9 a.m. Sept. 25.
Defense counsel also has until Oct. 1 to enter a plea of “not guilty by reason of insanity.”