Both sides agree: Murder retrial should be held elsewhere

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND ญญ— Prosecution and defense attorneys agree: Michael J. Pierce’s Jefferson County retrial on double-murder charges should be shelved and the trial restarted in another county.

Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith Harper will rule Monday on the motion to call a mistrial and change the trial’s venue that was filed jointly by Pierce’s defense team and the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the judge said during a hearing Friday.

Monday’s hearing will begin at 9 a.m. at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St.

The prosecution and the defense cited “irregularities” in the proceedings after a juror said she may have seen Pierce on the night of March 18, 2009, when Quilcene
residents Pat and Janice Yarr were killed and their farmhouse near Lake Leland set
ablaze.

“In an abundance of caution, the parties jointly seek a change of venue,” the motion filed Friday says.

“This measure is appropriate to safeguard Mr. Pierce’s right to a fair trial, and as a measure to cure the irregularities in the proceedings thus far.”

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Rosekrans also hopes to put the juror on the stand, the motion says.

“Even having been discharged as a juror does not cleanse the irregularity of having her testify before a jury with whom she sat as a peer throughout the jury selection process and early trial proceedings,” the motion says.

A jury convicted Pierce, 38, in 2010 of two counts of first-degree murder, and Pierce was serving a life sentence in Walla Walla State Penitentiary when the state Court of Appeals reversed the conviction July 27, 2012, after Pierce’s attorneys successfully argued that his post-arrest statements should have been suppressed.

The motion for a change of venue was the third filed by defense attorney Richard Davies, who cited pretrial publicity and widespread knowledge of the case as reasons to move the trial.

“From the very beginning of the case, we’ve advocated for a change of venue,” Davies said at the hearing Friday.

“Mr. Pierce will wave speedy trial as far in the future as necessary to secure that.”

Harper said if the case were to be moved to Kitsap County, the closest jurisdiction besides Clallam County, the earliest another trial could start would be October.

Rosekrans said this would not change the prosecution’s mind about agreeing to seek a change of venue with the defense, adding that the prosecution’s focus has been a fair trial for Pierce and the state.

“Great pains were taken to provide a jury that’s fair and impartial,” Rosekrans said. “As far as late as October, the state understands that.”

The retrial had begun with jury selection last Monday. After testimony ended Wednesday, Juror 13, Laura Meynberg of Port Townsend, told the court’s bailiff that an incident referred to in the trial’s opening statements had triggered a memory of a large man walking along the side of U.S. Highway 101 at night, though she was unsure when the incident occurred.

“I haven’t seen anything like this, when a juror, when the trial starts, has their memory jogged,” Rosekrans said Friday.

“We can’t really put up much opposition, if any, as to why the case should stay here,” he said.

Rosekrans considers Meynberg a crucial witness for the state, saying she could corroborate the testimony of another witness who reportedly saw Pierce walking along U.S. 101.

The testimony of Pamela Roberts was presented during Pierce’s first trial in 2010. It was alluded to in the prosecution’s opening statement last week.

Rosekrans, who had argued against a change of venue in earlier proceedings, said Friday: “No matter how strong our best efforts, everything we did or could to protect this process, it’s such a small county. These issues come up,” Rosekrans said.

Meynberg was one of 16 jurors — which includes four alternates — seated after a five-day selection process and did not indicate any previous knowledge of the case during that time, Harper has said.

All 16 had listened to the testimony. The designation of jurors as primary or alternate would not occur until after both sides rest their cases, Rosekrans said.

The motion was signed by Davies and Bret Roberts for the defense and by Rosekrans and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Ashcraft.

Had the change-of-venue motion not come forward, Harper said, he likely would have kept the sitting jury and excluded Meynberg as a potential witness.

“After listening to Juror 13, I certainly didn’t anticipate Juror 13 was going to be called as state’s witness, much less a crucial one,” Harper said.

Harper said he put a great deal of thought into his earlier decisions to keep the trial in Jefferson County, adding, “I still happen to believe I made the right decision.”

“Now, everyone wants to throw in the towel and say this isn’t working,” Harper said.

“Quite frankly, some of this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

________

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 20. 2013 5:52PM
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