DETROIT - Judge Nancy Edmunds has denied the defense filing for a change of venue in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal corruption trial.
Defense lawyers in the trial had filed a motion for change of venue this morning. The government in turn issued a response to the defendants' motion. The hearing at 2pm this afternoon was held to hear arguments and the judge's decision.
Former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his co-defendants Bobby Ferguson, Bernard Kilpatrick and Victor Mercado waived their right to be present in the courtroom.
Jim Thomas, lawyer for Kwame Kilpatrick, addressed the court saying that negative and persistent media coverage of the case would make it difficult for jurors who would fear persecution in the event of an unpopular verdict. He pointed to the timing of an article on a holdout juror in the recent Bobby Ferguson mistrial saying "it was a clear shot across the bow at the jurors." He argued that though the court had done its best to insulate the jurors' anonimity, it had failed.
As evidence of the direct impact of the media on jurors, Thomas pointed to 2 African-American jurors who asked to be excused from jury duty before peremptory challenges even began yesterday. One, a stay-at-home parent, claimed that the childcare costs for his baby would prove too expensive. The other said that he worried about the media impact on his community after some personal details had been revealed.
Judge Edmunds immediately disagreed with Thomas saying that she believed that the juror with the childcare issue had a legitimate concern. The other juror, she clarified, was more concerned with media being problematic for his community and that 1 out of 64 jurors was not enough to raise a problem.
Mr. Thomas continued with his argument for change of venue stating that despite court remonstrations, the media was continuing to ramp up emotions on this case and that offensive reader comments that had previously been mentioned "are still out there". Thomas ended by saying the defense was abandoning the argument for actual presumption of prejudice with the jury process and that though he was filing a memorandum on the grand jury process, he didn't think it would go anywhere.
Gerald Evelyn, one of Bobby Ferguson's lawyers, briefly addressed to say only to reiterate the concern with the African-American jurors who were excused before peremptory challenges began yesterday.
John Shea, lawyer for Bernard Kilpatrick, addressed the court only to say he had nothing further to add to the pleadings.
Interestingly, John Minock, lawyer for Victor Mercado, asked the court to allow Mercado's co-defendants to go ahead with the change of venue but they would be happy to continue the trial with the jury currently selected.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goetz said that the defense had chosen a selective smattering of publicity and that the holdout juror article in question had investigated possible juror misconduct which was not a good enough reason to request a change of venue. Given that the defense had abandoned any argument of actual prejudice, there was no evidence of presumption of prejudice and asked the court to deny motion.
Judge Edmunds ruled to deny motion for change of venue.
"It was a long and tough process that worked and we have a fair, impartial and diverse jury", said Edmunds.
Edmunds further stated that presumptive prejudice is very difficult to apply and there had been no such finding in over 50 years.
"There isn't anything in this case that for the court to presume prejudice and that warrants a change of venue", continued Edmunds.
After denying the motion for change of venue, Edmunds also denied the motion of severance for Victor Mercado. She closed by underscoring her fervent belief in juror anonimity saying "I will do everything to protect the privacy of the jurors, so help me."
Opening statements begin Friday.
About the author:
Alexandra Harland is a Princeton undergrad and has a masters degree in International affairs with Columbia. A Montreal native, she worked with the Daily Telegraph newspaper for a few years before transitioning to TV, when she worked at ABC News with Peter Jennings. Alexandra has also worked in newsrooms in both Detroit and Boston.
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