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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ind. Decisions - No venue yet for high profile murder retrial

In Roy Lee Ward v. State of Indiana (6/30/4 IndSCt), Justice Rucker, wrote for a unanimous court:

As the result of a brutal slaying Roy Lee Ward was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He was also convicted and sentenced to a term of years for rape and criminal deviate conduct. In this direct appeal Ward raises several issues for our review, one of which is that this case should not have been tried in the county where the crimes were committed because of community bias and pervasive pretrial publicity. The record supports this contention. We are therefore constrained to reverse and remand this cause for a new trial. * * *

With his life at stake, we think the Constitution requires that the defendant "be tried in an atmosphere undisturbed by so huge a wave of public passion and by a jury other than one in which [one half] of the members admit, before hearing any testimony, to possessing a belief in his guilt." Irvin, 366 U.S. at 728. We conclude therefore that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant Ward's motion for change of venue from the county, or in the alternative to draw the jury from another county. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court on this issue and remand this cause for a new trial. Judgment reversed and cause remanded.

The U.S Supreme Court last month refused to hear prosecutors' appeal of the decision, meaning that Ward will receive a new trial. However, as headlined in this AP story in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette today, "No venue yet for murder retrial: Heavy coverage cited in Evansville market." Some quotes:
ROCKPORT – Prosecutors and attorneys for a man whose death sentence in the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl was overturned could not agree on a county in which to retry him.

Roy Lee Ward was sentenced to death after a Spencer County jury found him guilty of murder, rape and criminal deviate conduct in the July 2001 slaying of Stacey Payne in her home about 30 miles east of Evansville. The U.S. Supreme Court last month let stand a ruling overturning his conviction.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys negotiated Friday but reached no accord on selecting an Indiana county to supply jurors for Ward’s retrial on charges of murder, rape and criminal deviate conduct. * * *

Defense attorneys Steven Ripstra and Lorinda Youngcourt said they and prosecutors agreed Friday to exclude counties adjoining Spencer County – Perry, Dubois and Warrick – and to exclude others in the Evansville and Louisville, Ky., media markets.

They reiterated that Ward is willing to plead guilty if the prosecutor withdraws the death penalty in exchange for life in prison.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 20, 2005 07:27 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions