Lawyer: Publicity has biased jury pool in murder case
By CAITLIN HEANEY
Evening Sun Reporter
Article Launched: 10/02/2008 11:29:28 AM EDT
The attorney for a Fairfield area man accused of killing a teenager in May has asked to move the trial out of Adams County, but a ruling on the request is not expected until closer to the man's trial.
Chief Public Defender Jeffrey Cook has filed motions to change venue and venire and to select a jury person-by-person for Jason R. Armstrong, of 16 Snow Bird Trail, according to documents filed in the Adams County Clerk of Courts office.
Changing venue would move Armstrong's trial outside Adams County, and changing venire would bring in a jury from another county for the trial.
District Attorney Shawn Wagner said he did not think Armstrong's case had received extraordinary publicity that would impact the ability to find impartial jurors, especially considering the amount of time between when the crime occurred and when the case will go to trial. Wagner said Armstrong's case has been continued until January.
President Judge John D. Kuhn issued a subsequent order last month on part of Cook's motions but noted that issues Cook raised about pretrial publicity and changing venue or venire will be addressed closer to trial. Wagner said judges normally wait until the voir dire process of picking a jury is complete.
"When there's an issue with that, then, in my experience, (in) what I call 'high-profile' cases, it's not an issue in picking a jury, to find impartial jurors who will decide the case based solely on the evidence and not let any outside influence
interrupt their decision," Wagner said.
Armstrong, 34, is charged with murder and related offenses for allegedly killing 19-year-old Andrew S. Bosley, of 1145 Carroll's Tract Road, Orrtanna, and setting Bosley's body on fire. Pennsylvania State Police at Gettysburg said Armstrong stabbed Bosley more than 100 times during a May camping trip near Ski Run Trail in Carroll Valley.
Armstrong also faces a charge of driving under the influence after allegedly crashing a vehicle on the morning after the alleged killing.
Cook's explanation for his motion to change venue cites a "significant amount of pretrial publicity" in Armstrong's case. Changing the trial's venue or venire is appropriate to give Armstrong a fair trial, and pretrial publicity would "make it virtually impossible" for an Adams County jury to be impartial and fair, according to the motions.
Conducting an individual voir dire is fitting to see whether prospective jurors have been exposed to pretrial publicity and would be able to be fair and impartial, according to the motion. Kuhn's subsequent order does not mention the voir-dire motion specifically.
But Wagner said he does not think an individual voir dire is necessary.
"It's not a death penalty case," Wagner said. "And in my experience with other first-degree murders that were not a death penalty (case), we did not do an individual voir dire."
Kuhn's recent ruling also dealt with other motions Cook filed for Armstrong, including a request for a forensic toxicologist. Wagner said he did not oppose the motions regarding experts "given the seriousness of the case."
Cook's motions contend Armstrong was taking antidepressant medication at the time he allegedly killed Bosley, and testimony during his arraignment shows Armstrong might have consumed alcohol prior to the alleged killing. The cumulative effects of medication and alcohol might have affected Armstrong's brain and chemical functions, and issues of voluntary or involuntary intoxication might be relevant as a defense to first-degree murder, according to the motions.
First-degree murder is the only charge in which a defendant can use drug use or voluntary intoxication as a defense, based on the idea that alcohol or a controlled substance intoxicates a person to such an extent that it invalidates the idea that a person intended to kill. While being intoxicated is not a defense, people can claim they were so intoxicated as to lose control of their faculties.
"It's an issue that we'll deal with at trial," Wagner said, adding that he could not comment further.
Cook also filed motions for the county to pay for a psychiatric evaluation for Armstrong and for the court to appoint an expert pathologist to help prepare a defense and review evidence. Kuhn ordered Cook to provide the court with the identity of, background for and proposed fee structure for his proposed experts, according to the order.
Cook also filed a motion to reserve the right to file supplemental motions and for continuing discovery, the process in which the prosecution and defense share relevant documents.
Armstrong pleaded not-guilty to his charges in July and faces life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder and 20 to 40 years in prison if found guilty of third-degree murder.
Armstrong was due to appear in court Monday for a scheduled plea, but Cook filed a motion to postpone the matter, according to court documents. Court documents indicate his plea has been rescheduled for Dec. 29.
Wagner announced in July he legally could not seek the death penalty for Armstrong because the case did not include aggravating circumstances, required criteria in capital cases. Aggravating factors include torture, killing a witness or killing a police officer. Wagner said at the time that he and state police examined the case but did not identify aggravating circumstances.
Cook did not return multiple requests for comment.