Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lusk's attorneys ask for a change of venue

Linda Lusk's attorneys want a judge to move her sex crime trial to another county or sequester the jurors because of "voluminous and vicious" media coverage during the past 10 months.

Attorneys Jim Egan and Larry Stephenson on Friday filed a motion in Benton County Superior Court to change the venue of the upcoming trial for the former Prosser mayor.

Lusk, 50, is accused of exchanging sexually explicit text messages and having sexual contact with a teenage boy. She is charged with third-degree child molestation, third-degree rape of a child and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.

"This case received notorious attention from TV and the newspaper and the internet," Egan wrote. "The blogs and YouTube videos contain vicious, untrue, mocking information about the defendant and her family. Strong opinions have been generously expressed."

Egan said that if Judge Carrie Runge wants to keep the case in Benton County, the alternative is to have jurors fill out a detailed questionnaire. That would help the lawyers understand each juror's knowledge of the case, though they still would need to be individually questioned, he said.

He argued that a majority of potential jurors would know the parties and be familiar with the allegations because of Lusk's background as a political figure and her husband's role as the Prosser High principal.

If the trial stays in Kennewick, he said the jury panel should be housed in a hotel during the trial to prevent exposure to outside information from the media, family or friends.

"Sequestering will not cure all the same defects as a change of venue, but will prevent the jury from being influenced by what they see and hear and what they might seek on their own," Egan wrote.

Prosecutor Andy Miller said he only learned of this request before Friday's hearing. He told the court he has been "a little disappointed with the media on this case" because he doesn't feel the victim's family has been respected in the coverage, but added that he doesn't think people read a lot of the blogs that mention Lusk.

Miller said he would be surprised if he couldn't find a fair and impartial jury in Benton County, and told the court that a jury questionnaire is the more appropriate option.

Runge noted that the lawyers weren't ready to address the motion Friday, but said it "seems premature" at this point. At a minimum, a questionnaire will be used given the nature of the case and the media attention, she said.

Lusk's trial is May 16, but Egan notified the court that he has a two-week drug trafficking trial scheduled at the same time in U.S. District Court. Egan said he cannot move the federal case and asked if he could delay Lusk's trial two weeks, pointing out that he and Stephenson only have been handling the case for 80 days.

Miller was frustrated that Egan's drug trafficking case is taking precedence over the Lusk case, considering this one has been set for two months and has a teen victim who is waiting to get on with his life once the trial is over.

Miller questioned if Egan even mentioned this case to Judge Robert Whaley in federal court, and encouraged Runge to speak to the other judge to see if that case could be delayed.

Runge said she does not know Judge Whaley, but will talk to him before a hearing next week. If Whaley doesn't feel the facts of the Benton County case warrant a postponement of his case, then Lusk's trial will be moved to late May, Runge said.

The judge also said she is holding off ruling on a motion to suppress statements Lusk gave to police because her new defense lawyers want to re-argue the issue. A hearing was held Feb. 17 on the issue, when Lusk was represented by Scott Johnson.

By Kristin M. Kraemer, Herald staff writer

Source: The News Tribune

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