Well, I finally managed to be in the right courtroom at the right time for one of these proceedings.
Today, Judge Marjorie A. T. Arrington heard pre-trial motions for the Ryan Frederick case. Four motions were filed in all. An attorney for a consortium of media interests asked that video cameras be allowed in the courtroom.The Prosecution asked for a change of venue and the Defense asked for a Severance of the Manufacturing of Marijuana charge and the Murder and use of a Firearm charges and a “Jury View” of Frederick’s home.
After hearing media attorney Conrad Shumadine, assert that, “If there’s ever a case that should be before the camera, it is this case,” and prosecutor Paul Ebert arrogantly argue that there should not be cameras because he doesn’t think they are a good idea (Seriously, that was the basis of his argument.) Judge Arrington ruled that cameras would be allowed.
Mr. Shumadine was unable to tell me if the full feed would be available or if only those excerpts chosen by television stations would be available to citizens.
The court then went on the the prosecution request for a change of venue.
Ebert contended that pre-trial publicity had prejudiced the jury pool in Chesapeake. He cited statements made to the press and TV, particularly the jailhouse interview on WAVY TV immediately after his arrest in which Frederick was crying and obviously distraught as “self serving” statements by the defense. He also alluded to “blog entries” stating some of which claimed 50,000 readers.
He did not say which blogs, or if he had determined what portion of the readers were from Chesapeake.
At that point his co-prosecutor, Richard Conway, proceeded to make claims that Frederick had threatened the informant/burglar and told him he expected the police and had plans for dealing with them. He also introduced previously undisclosed evidence of traces of marijuana on some tubs found in the search as well as magazines on growing marijuana.
I was surprised the judge allowed that. What Ebert and Conway essentially did was to use a televised hearing on a change of venue to prejudice the jury pool with second hand testimony from the informant with no opportunity for the defense to cross examine or challenge the veracity of the “witness” or to even identify the source of the testimony so the press could check public records and comment on the reliability of that witness. However, the defense attorney, James Broccoletti, raised no objection and the press, particularly the TV press, repeated this dubious testimony as though it was from the lips of God.
Ebert presented the judge with a box of affidavits from ‘citizens’ who said they had been irrevocably tainted by press coverage. It would be interesting to see how many of those citizens have some connection to the police department, but the press probably won’t check into that either.
Broccoletti asked to be given time to produce contrary affidavits and the motion on the change of venue will not be ruled upon till Oct. 27.
The defense asked to have the marijuana manufacturing charge tried separately. I can see how that would simplify the strategy for the defense, and avoid the prejudicial nature of drug charge as a possible motive in the murder charge, but I am unsure if it makes that much difference. In any case, Judge Arrington denied that motion.
Brocoletti also asked for a ‘Jury View’ of Frederick’s home so the jurors would have a better idea of what Frederick could and could not see and the distances involved. That makes sense to me. Someone knocking down a door 8 feet from where you stand is a lot different than if the door is 20 feet away. The judge delayed ruling on that matter until she rules on the change in venue on Oct. 27, though she indicated she leaned toward allowing it.
I would argue from my experience in being there, that a change in venue is a very bad thing with regard to citizen oversight. The impression you would have gotten from the TV coverage of this hearing is so different from what I and others who were actually there saw, is stunning.
Watching WAVY TV’s coverage, you would think this was a home run day for the prosecution, but being there you could see the desperation of the prosecutors trying to put the best face on a logically riduculous case.
What we are being asked to believe is that the informant/burglar who was working with the police for two months spontaneously decided to break into Frederick’s garage three days before the raid, and stole half of the still unspecified amount of marijuana he found there but left the rest.
Frederick was smart enough to deduce from this that the police would be coming but dumb enough to warn the informant before the raid that he would resist. He was smart enough to get rid of the plants before the raid, but dumb enough to keep the magazines and misdemeanor amount of pot in his house. Having gotten rid of the felony evidence of cultivation, he decided instead of letting them search and write him a ticket for misdemeanor possession, he would go to war with a large number of heavily armed policemen with a low powered handgun, with no hope of gaining anything by doing so.
No wonder the prosecutor is looking for a different venue, the people of Chesapeake are not idiots.