BEATRICE — Joshua Keadle's attorney argued Friday that local conditions and pretrial publicity make it "impossible to secure a fair and impartial jury" in Nemaha County, suggesting his upcoming murder trial should be moved.
Keadle, 37, is accused of killing Tyler "Ty" Thomas, a Peru State College student, on Dec. 3, 2010, the night she disappeared while walking back to campus from a party.
Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Doug Warner said the state is objecting to moving the trial set to start Sept. 16 in Auburn.
Friday's hearing on the motion was in Beatrice as a convenience to District Judge Rick Schreiner, who presides over cases in a district that includes several counties.
Jeff Pickens, chief counsel of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, offered exhibits of questionnaires completed by potential jurors, which asked about their knowledge of Keadle's case, if they'd formed opinions about his guilt or innocence, if they could set them aside and be fair and impartial jurors.
He told the judge this way he could see for himself what they know about the case, which he argued was better than getting affidavits from people in the community who don't think Keadle could get a fair trial there or trying to pick a jury first, which could be a big waste of time and money.
Pickens said the questionnaires show that many potential jurors know about things that are not admissible at trial. "That's my biggest concern," the attorney said.
He also called Harold Silvey, a Nemaha County Sheriff's deputy, to answer questions about the Nemaha County Courthouse's bathrooms and entrances, issues that spoke to his second claim that the facilities were inadequate to handle a three-week jury trial in a high-profile murder case.
Logistically, the building has just two, single-person bathrooms on the third floor, used exclusively by jurors when there is a trial. Two other small bathrooms in the basement would be shared by everyone else, including Keadle, who would have to be escorted by deputies.
Keadle would need to be taken to another floor to meet privately with his attorney.
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Jury selection would need to be held somewhere other than the courthouse, which isn't big enough to accommodate the more than 100 people ordered to show up.
The judge asked Silvey when Nemaha County last had a multi-week murder trial. He said they haven't had one since he started with the sheriff's office 15 years ago.
At the end of the hearing, Schreiner asked the prosecutor whether venue was a personal right belonging to a defendant.
Warner said the state had an interest in a trial taking place where the alleged crime occurred.
"What is that interest?" the judge asked him.
Warner said that's what the law is. Just because a defendant wants it moved doesn't mean it moves, he said. That's not to say venue couldn't be waived if the state and defense agree, he said.
That's not the case here.
Pickens said Keadle would be willing to waive trial being held in Nemaha County. The court would be left to weigh those competing interests, he said.
Schreiner will decide the motion in the coming weeks.