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New venue sought in murder re-trial

The defense in the much-contested Michael Leggett murder trialis asking for a change of venue for his re-trial in the October2006 killing of 36-year-old Jewel Duane Douglas.

Leggett is accused of beating Douglas to death with a tire ironafter an argument. He was sentenced as a habitual criminal to lifein prison with no chance of parole at his first trial, but wasgranted a second trial based on what Circuit Judge Judge MikeTaylor ruled as prosecutorial misconduct.

Defense attorney Joe Fernald said decision to file the motion,which was done Friday and entered by his co-counsel Jason Tate, wasentirely based upon insuring a fair trial for Leggett, 33, afterwhat the defense considered excessive media publicity. The motionincluded 17 articles from area newspapers detailing the trial fromstart to finish, as well as ensuing motions.

“We’ve filed it because we believe it’s in the best interests ofour client given the extensive publicity during the trial, as wellas the result of the trial, and the aftermath of the trial,”Fernald said.

The aftermath of which Fernald referred included a motion by thedefense to find the prosecution guilty of prosecutorial misconductand grant the defense a new trial, which was upheld by Taylor.

After that, District Attorney Dee Bates asked Taylor toreconsider the ruling granting a new trial and also requested thejudge recuse himself from the case altogether. Taylor has notrecused himself.

Fernald said the defense had initially thought about a change ofvenue, but didn’t end up filing for one since they didn’t realizethe publicity that the case would end up drawing.

“We had toyed with the idea of a change of venue initially, butwe decided that it wasn’t that much of a high profile trial,” hesaid. “Then we realized it was becoming one, and now we’re sure ofit. This case has transcended guilt or innocence in thiscommunity.”

If the change of venue is granted when the motion is reviewed onSept. 17 in circuit court, there are two possibilities, Fernaldsaid. Either the entire trial, as well as the prosecution and thejudge, would be moved to another county, or the jurors would beselected in another county and brought in to Lincoln County for thetrial.

“It’s an expense question for the county,” he said. “Is iteasier to move the court to another county, I don’t know what theexpense would be to do that, or if it would be better to bring thejury here. I’ve been doing this now 21 years, and I’ve never beenin this position before.”