Venue change eyed in Port Angeles bulldozer rampage case
Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Barry Swegle enters Clallam County Superior Court in Port Angeles on Friday for a status hearing. A jury trial is set to begin Sept. 9.
By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
Print This | Email This
VIDEO — A new behind-the-scenes look at the Elwha River restoration -- 12/11/13 -12:44 AM
Today's PDN Page 1 . . . and read faster, absorb more -- 12/10/13 -06:43 PM
Breakfast special (with a free Peninsula Daily News) continues at 'The Bear' in Sequim -- 12/3/13 -06:20 PM
PENINSULA HOME FUND: A hand up for love -- 12/11/13 -08:20 AM
‘I will be back’: Reconvicted double-murderer files another appeal -- 12/10/13 -07:12 PM
“I don't know where we'll be able to find a jury in Clallam County that hasn't heard about this,” Karen Unger, Swegle's retained defense attorney, said by phone during a status hearing Friday.
Unger has not filed a motion for a change of venue. After the hearing, Unger said it would be up to Swegle whether she will seek to have the trial moved out of the county or seat a jury from elsewhere.
“It's ultimately up to my to client if he decides he wants me to ask for a change of venue,” Unger said.
Unger had last mentioned possibly filing a change-of-venue motion at a July 19 status hearing and did not file one Friday.
Swegle, 51, has been held in the Clallam County jail on $1 million bail since May 10, the day he allegedly used a bulldozer to damage or destroy four homes, a power pole, a number of outbuildings and other personal property, including a boat and a pickup truck.
Swegle is slated to appear for another case status hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Clallam County Superior Court.
Trial Sept. 9
A jury trial is set to begin Sept. 9 on charges of one count of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon, four counts of first-degree burglary with a deadly weapon — “to wit, a bulldozer” — and four counts of first-degree malicious mischief.
Clallam County Superior Court Judge George Wood agreed the incident's notoriety could be an issue, though he said he thought a county resident hearing about the event itself and forming an opinion about Swegle's guilt and intent could be separate.
“That may be a little bit different question for the jury because I doubt that most people have thought that through,” Wood said.
John Troberg, deputy Clallam County prosecuting attorney, said after the hearing that a change of venue likely would result in a trial postponement, as both sides would have to discuss the logistics of such a move.
“So, we'll just cross that bridge when we come to it, if we come to it,” Troberg said.
During the hearing, Troberg said staff from Western State Hospital will perform a mental evaluation on Swegle in Port Angeles on Wednesday or Thursday.
Troberg requested the state hospital mental evaluation so he can prepare for a diminished-mental-capacity defense likely to be used by Unger in Swegle's trial.
He said hospital staff expect to finish the mental evaluation report by Sept. 6, three days before Swegle's jury trial is set to begin.
Troberg expressed concern it might not give him enough time to review the report before the trial starts.
“It's difficult to prepare a case for a mental health defense when you get the report the Friday before the trial,” Troberg told Wood.
Later, Troberg said, he'll work to review the mental evaluation report with the presumption that the jury trial will proceed on the date scheduled.
“We have our marching orders, so we do it,” Troberg said.
“[The] judge said trial in September, and that's what we do: We just gear up and go.”
Unger already had the trial start date, originally set for Aug. 12, moved once so she could review the mental evaluation report she requested from Dr. Brian Grant, a clinical associate professor at the University of Washington in psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
The destruction in Gales Addition took place mostly along Pioneer Road in Gales Addition just east of Port Angeles and made news across the U.S. and the world, according to media reports following the incident.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: August 24. 2013 5:27PM