Saturday, October 13, 2018

Should the Jalen Vaden trial be held in Jasper County?

With the appointment of Stephen Carlton as the latest judge in the Jalen Vaden murder case, the comments sections on the Turner Report and on the Inside Joplin Facebook pages have been filled with comments about whether the trial should be held in Jasper County.

There is no way Vaden can get a fair trial in this county, some have argued.

One thing is almost certain, because Carlton is the last Jasper County judge eligible to hear the case and because his retirement is scheduled to go into effect long before the trial starts, the Missouri Supreme Court will eventually appoint an out-of-count judge to preside.

One thing is almost certain- the trial, if there is no plea before it starts, will be held in Jasper County.

In Missouri, defense lawyers are automatically given the choice of one change of judge or a change of venue. When Judge Dean Dankelson overruled the motion by Vaden's attorney, Tracey Martin, to recuse from the case, Martin asked for the change of judge.

That does not mean, she cannot ask for a change of venue. It only means it will not be automatically granted. If she made the motion, she would have to present evidence that Vaden could not receive a fair trial here because the jury pool has been contaminated.

First, there is a natural preference to hold trials in the county in which the crimes were committed. It allows the community to attend if they desire and it cuts down on the travel and inconvenience. It also cuts down on the cost considerably.

There are also other ways to make sure the jury pool is not contaminated. Calling in a larger panel for voir dire increases the likelihood that 12 impartial jurors and a couple of alternates can be seated. If you have 60 people, you have better odds than if you call 30.

Some have argued that the case should not be heard here because everyone has heard about what happened to three-year-old murder victim Jayda Kyle.

As much as it pains me to admit it, there are people out there who do not have the slightest idea of what is going on in the news and there are others who have only heard or read about the case in passing.

It is easy to think because of the passion felt, both by those who believe Jalen Vaden is guilty or those who believe he is not guilty, that everyone is invested in this case. Certainly, news about the murder has reached more area residents than other crime cases, but it is still possible to find people who have not made up their minds.

Just knowing about the case does not necessarily disqualify someone from serving on the jury. It is not whether you know anything about it, it is whether you can listen to the evidence with an open mind and render an impartial verdict.

The lawyers on both sides also will be able use juror questionnaires to further eliminate bias. They will check on whether people have been involved in custody battles, whether anyone has had run-ins with the law and felt they were mistreated. Are any of the potential jurors child abuse victims?

Though I can't say for certain, I would imagine that the division within the community is one reason Martin did not ask for a change of venue.

People have heard the same facts and have reached different conclusions about this case. All it takes is one person who disagrees with the prosecuting attorney's case and a hung trial becomes a possibility.

If the jury pool is exhausted and not enough jurors have been seated, one more option remains before a change of venue.

The judge has the option of bringing in a jury from another county. That, however, would be an incredible inconvenience on those jurors since the trial is expected to last two weeks.

So, if a jury cannot be empaneled here, it is likely a change of venue will be granted.

Otherwise, barring a plea, this trial will be held in Jasper County.

I am interested in your thoughts.

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