However, the families of Tara Thornburg and Joshua Knisley, the two victims in the matter, were present.
Prosecution and defense attorneys pleaded their cases before Reed Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 5. Three motions were brought before Reed: change of venue, in limine matters and request for a speedy trial. Only one matter, the in limine request, was agreed upon by all parties involved.
The news media, along with social media, are being blamed by Woody’s attorneys as prohibiting their client from getting a fair and impartial trial by jury. Joe Sobek, co-counsel, pointed out facts in the change of venue brief, filed with the court, showing the public is biased and prejudiced. The brief included illustrated copies of comments posted on social media. Sobek noted the comments were of hostility and outrage against Woody.
He noted in today’s society the public receives information from media and social media to form his own opinion, even haphazardly, and members of the community are allowed to voice their opinions and thoughts on the case before it is even presented in the courts. “They (the public) are provided more information than what is admissible in court,” he stated.
Sobek noted there has been an overwhelming number of negative comments of his guilt, the community saw his prior criminal background and pending charges of drug abuse, burglary and violence, all of which according to criminal rules of evidence are not admissible in the trial.
Sobek stated pre-trial publicity, in a small community, keep citizens well informed in major news moments. He added the murder was the top news at that time and was the top hit of online news. “A vast majority were familiar, heard about it and formed opinions.”
Brad Voelz, deputy prosecuting attorney, agreed a defendant in a case is entitled to a fair trial, which is guaranteed by the Sixth and 14th Amendments. He stated the jury pool for the case has not yet been chosen so it is not known if potential jurors are biased. He also added the media has the right to report the news and the citizens have the right to hear what is happening with the case.
Voelz stated the most recent alleged comments referred to by Sobek were dated March 26, 2015. There is no evidence pre-trial publicity has affected the potential juror pool and there is a high probability not every juror has been tainted. Voelz also cited several higher court decisions in which the possibility of prejudice or biased jurors was not cause for a change of venue. He pointed out the trial would be more than 11 months after the last cited article in the brief.
Reed agreed biased jurors would not be known until the jury pool is drawn. Scott Lennox, co-counsel, argued every juror would need to be questioned to determined if there is prejudice in the matter. Yet, he did agree there would be no way of knowing if there could be 14 jurors selected who have not heard about the case. He also suggested getting a jury pool from several counties removed or further.
Dan Hampton, prosecutor, referred to the Boston Bomber case. While the event happened in Boston, everyone across the country knows about the case. “It’s the community’s right to be seated as a member of the jury from the community in this county (where the crime occurred),” said Hampton.
“I will review in great detail (the information),” said Reed taking the matter under advisement and announcing he would rule in the next 10 days.
Unless the defense withdraws its motion for a speedy trial, a five-day jury trial is set to begin at 8:30 a.m. April 28. Should the motion continue, the trial date would need to be moved to around the first week of March.