ELKHART — Motions against and in favor of holding C. Aaron Rovenstine’s jury trial in Elkhart and a jury pool chosen from outside the county have been filed. No action has been taken on the arguments at this time by Special Judge Evan S. Roberts, Elkhart Superior Court I.
It was during the April 19 status conference, Roberts indicated Rovenstine’s six-day jury trial, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 7, would be held in his courtroom in Elkhart.
Just prior to the status conference, Special Prosecuting Attorney E. Nelson Chipman Jr., Marshall County Prosecutor, filed a motion to draw a jury pool from one or more contiguous counties to Kosciusko.
It was during the status conference James H. Voyles, counsel for Rovenstine, orally objected to the location and jury pool makeup. He was given 30 days to file a response, with the state given 15 days to file a reply.
Voyles filed a two-page objection of a jury chosen from outside the county May 4, and a response to the state’s reply May 9.
Voyles response referenced the constitutions of Indiana and United States that guarantee an accused the right to a trial by an impartial jury of his peers and that trial be held in the county where the offense was committed. He cited Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 12(a) where a motion for change of venue be verified or accompanied by a signed affidavit stating facts supporting the request. He also noted the purpose of a change of venue.
He argues a decision to change the venue is premature as no jury pool has been chosen. Voyles added there has been no evidence submitted into the record showing Rovenstine could not receive a fair trial in Kosciusko County.
The state’s response bases the request on Criminal Rule 12(a) stating Rovenstine is an elected public official, elected as sheriff, and has been a successful candidate in three primary and three general elections and “as a result of individuals from the pool, from which potential jurors are selected, to vote favorable for the defendant as a candidate.” The state continues “as a candidate, the defendant has intentionally sought favorable name recognition through newspaper publications an radio advertisements for an extended period of time.”
Additionally, the state argues the indictment and public interest in the proceedings against Rovenstine is the subject of intense public scrutiny through newspapers, radio and television coverage, rendering the selection of an impartial jury difficult and impossible. “The state acquiesces in conducing the trial of this matter in Kosciusko County, although acknowledges that judicial convenience would dictate conducting the trial in the home courtroom of the special judge,” but requests the pool of potential jurors from Elkhart County or another county for “the simple reason the jury venire would most likely be oblivious to the news coverage and intense public scrutiny in contrast to Kosciusko County residents.
Voyles’ response May 9 argues the state’s motion did not comply with Criminal Rule 12(A) as it cites generalities about Kosciusko residents and their feeling about the defendant in the case and generalities of the defendant’s actions as a candidate. This fails to cite any constitutional or statutory basis to order jurors selected from another county.
The rebuttal states should the court grant the motion for a change of venue, his client objects. “Part of the state’s verified motion seems to infer that Rovenstine may be too popular or likeable in Kosciusko County for an impartial jury to be seated. However, the grand jury pool was drawn from Kosciusko County and certainly did not have a problem indicting Rovenstine.” He adds the state has no specifics regarding publicity and reaction to support beliefs the entire jury pool in Kosciusko County be tainted.
It is noted the state gave “a television interview after Rovenstine’s initial hearing whose audience included the Kosciusko viewing area. Apparently the state made statements about the inability to get a fair trial in Kosciusko County due to the reputation of Rovenstine. The state cannot create the publicity it claims has tainted the jury pool and then ask for a different jury pool.” A state Supreme Court case was cited where the defendant and his attorney were responsible, in part, for the heightened media attention by their participation in press conferences and discussing the case with the media.