WARSAW — Jury selection will begin Tuesday morning, Aug. 1, in Kosciusko County Circuit Court in the trial of Mark Soto. Soto has been charged with three counts of corrupt business influence, class C felonies and three counts of intimidation, class D felony.
Soto, along with Kevin Bronson and C. Aaron Rovenstine, were indicted by a Kosciusko County grand jury in February 2016. Bronson, who was originally charged with three counts of corrupt business influence and seven counts of intimidation, has pleaded guilty to one count of intimidation and is awaiting sentencing. Rovenstine, who was originally charged with three counts of bribery, intimidation, and five counts of official misconduct, pleaded guilty to one count of intimidation and received a one-year suspended sentence.
Prior to the start of the jury selection, Special Judge Stephen R. Bowers, from Elkhart Superior Court II, will hear arguments from the prosecution and defense regarding a motion to close the courtroom for portion of testimony. The motion was filed Thursday, July 27, by Special Prosecutor Tami Napier.
The motion is requesting the court to close the courtroom to all persons except the parties, court staff and other necessary personnel during the testimony of a witness when it involves the witness’s gang membership, involvement in the gang, details explaining the gang’s purpose and activities as it relates to the case. To support her motion, Napier states:
A trial court has inherent power to limit spectators in order to relieve overcrowding, to protect the order and decorum of the courtroom and to protect the rights of parties and witnesses, including the prosecuting witness. She notes one of the state’s witnesses is expected to testify regarding membership in a notoriously violent gang and how that membership was utilized in the offenses charged in the indictment.
The motion states the safety of the witness and the witness’s cooperation in the prosecution of this matter is critical for the state’s case in chief. It’s also noted a portion of the state’s witness’s anticipated testimony will be explaining how the witness became a member of the gang, subsequent activities in the gang, providing identifying information within the gang, how the gang exercises power and how the gang functions, among other information.
Napier notes gang retaliation is exponentially increased when a gang member witness discusses the gang and its activities when testifying as the state’s witness. It is anticipated this portion of the witness’s testimony and cross examination regarding the subject would be brief, limiting the intrusion on the right of the public to be present in the courtroom. “The state’s request is one of minimal intrusion and limited restrictions aimed at erring on the side of safety as it pertains to a known gang member testifying as a state’s witness in its case in chief,” according to the court document.
The trial is slated to go through Friday, Aug. 4, and then reconvene Monday, Aug. 7, and ending Friday, Aug. 11.