The decision of whether or not to move Adam Longoria’s capital murder trial away from Barton County won’t be announced until Monday, District Judge Hannelore Kitts said.
Longoria returned to the Barton County Courthouse on Wednesday for a pretrial hearing on pending motions, including a change of venue request. He is charged with capital murder in the death of 14-year-old Alicia DeBolt in August 2010, and his jury trial is scheduled to start March 26.
Defense attorneys Jeffrey Wicks and Tim Frieden argued that Longoria might not be able to receive a fair trial in Great Bend, based on extensive media coverage and a survey they commissioned.DeleteGreat Bend Tribune Managing Editor Dale Hogg was called to testify and deliver copies of all of the newspaper’s stories on the case to date. He acknowledged that DeBolt’s murder and the subsequent charging of Longoria have led to several stories. "We’re a community newspaper and we focus on local coverage," he said.
Mary Gatton, clerk of the district court in Barton County, testified that there are 20,546 licensed drivers in the county database that is the source of potential jurors.
Dr. Shirley Drew, a professor in the Pittsburg State University Department of Communication, testified that she and her colleagues developed the survey administered to determine the community’s awareness of the case and to gauge people’s feelings on the defendant’s probable guilt or innocence.
A professional polling company from Nebraska conducted the survey, choosing names randomly from the "phone book for Barton County" until they had a statistically valid number of responses, Drew said. The 401 people surveyed were more than enough to produce a poll that is accurate within 4 percent, she testified.
The findings were that 97 percent of Barton County residents are aware of the case. "Over 75 percent believe the defendant is guilty of the crime he is charged with," Drew said.
The survey also found that "members of this community are highly involved in their community," she said. They are likely to hold strong opinions that aren’t easily changed about issues they care about. More than 80 percent recalled reading something about the case in a newspaper, and over 70 percent recalled seeing something on television. About half of these people believed what they read or heard was accurate.
According to the Social Judgement Theory, Drew said, the more highly involved people are in a story, the harder it is to change their opinion. "The more an individual cares about an issue, the more they are committed to their viewpoints."
Wicks argued the prosecution holds an advantage in this community as a result of this.
Special Assistant Attorney General Kevin O’Connor cross examined Drew, questioning the methodology of the survey and the conclusions drawn. She said the "cluster sample" was randomly selected, although most of the people who responded to the survey are from Great Bend. The phone numbers in the book were mostly for people with land line telephones, but could include some cell phones, she said.
O’Connor cited other high profile cases where most of a community had heard of the alleged crime and where news coverage had been extensive but mostly factual. No change of venue was granted, yet subsequent convictions were not overturned on appeal, because the defendants received a fair trial, he said. "You’re not suggesting the articles were inflammatory or not factual," O’Connor said to Drew.
"This case has gotten a lot of media coverage," Wicks argued. "Seventy-five percent have already decided the case. You can’t really say we can get a fair jury."
"People of Barton County deserve to have their case heard in Barton County," O’Connor said. "We should presume they are able to follow their oath," and the instructions to base their verdict on facts presented at trial, he said.