Attorneys ask that double-murder retrial be moved to Kitsap County

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A change-of-venue motion has been filed asking that the double-murder retrial of Michael J. Pierce be moved to Kitsap County.

Deputy Prosecutor Chris Ashcraft said Thursday that attorneys for both sides are attempting to schedule a meeting where the matter could be presented to a judge, but they have not agreed on a date to do so.

A hearing has not been scheduled, and the motion may not be acted upon until the beginning of the trial in Jefferson County, attorneys said.

The retrial of Pierce, 37, of Quilcene for the first-degree murders of Pat and Janice Yarr of Quilcene is set for May 20.

Pierce’s attorney, Bret Roberts of Port Townsend, says his client, who lived in Quilcene, will not get a fair trial in Jefferson County because of pretrial publicity.

“Protection of Mr. Pierce’s . . . right to a fair trial before an impartial and unbiased jury . . . strongly favors a change of venue to Kitsap County,” Roberts said in a motion filed March 1 in Jefferson County Superior Court.

“The risk of prejudice and wasted financial expenditures are too great to squander time trying to pick an impartial jury in Jefferson County, where a media deluge has inundated the public with prejudicial pretrial information,” Roberts said.

Roberts suggested that Kitsap County would be more appropriate for the retrial since the jury pool is larger, its 225,961 population being 12 times larger than Jefferson County’s 18,480.

Kitsap County, Roberts wrote, “is a much more suitable location for Mr. Pierce’s retrial.”

The Jefferson County Prosecutor’s Office has spoken out against a change of venue, with prosecuting attorney Scott Rosekrans saying he will be able to seat an impartial jury.

Pierce was convicted in 2010 of the murders of the Yarrs on March 18, 2009, in their farmhouse near Lake Leland.

The state Court of Appeals on July 17 unanimously reversed Pierce’s 2010 conviction — for which Pierce was serving a life sentence at Walla Walla State Penitentiary — and sent the case back to Jefferson County for a new trial.

Pierce is now in the Jefferson County jail awaiting trial.

Ashcraft said a change of venue is granted either prior to the trial’s beginning or when it becomes clear that an impartial jury cannot be seated, with the latter more common.

“You never know until you try to seat the jury,” Ashcraft said.

“You could have someone with a single DUI [driving under the influence] where there is one article that could influence the jury, or you could have a large case like Pierce where you find 12 people who have never read the articles and could be seated,” Ashcraft added.

The 279-page change-of-venue brief contains 39 pages of arguments, with the remainder being press clippings, mostly from the Peninsula Daily News and the Port Townsend-Jefferson County Leader in addition to other media sources.

“Jefferson County is full of people for whom the loss . . . is still fresh, because the ongoing coverage of the appeal process never subsided long enough for the wounds to heal,” Roberts wrote.

In any case, the retrial will be heard by a new judge since Superior Court Judge Craddock Verser, who presided over the 2010 trial, has retired.

If the retrial is heard in Jefferson County, it most likely will be before newly elected Superior Court Judge Keith Harper.

In Kitsap County, a local judge would hear the case, but it would be prosecuted by Rosekrans and his staff.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 14. 2013 6:02PM
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