Lawyers ask for change of venue -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Lawyers ask for change of venue

February 24, 2006

Leesburg -

A former Lee County deputy charged with shooting and killing a teenager will likely stand trial in May.  But Donnie Spillers' lawyers want a change of venue in this emotionally charged case.

Seventeen year old Wesley Beaver was shot after being chased and stopped by sheriff's deputies on Highway 19 South in February 2005.  When a grand jury met, Beaver's friends and family were at the courthouse wearing t-shirts and carrying signs.  Donnie Spiller's lawyers say that could influence potential jurors.  An even bigger concern is all the news coverage of this case. 

Dozens of people sat quietly this morning as Spillers' lawyer argued for a change of venue. At issue, two and a half hours of WALB-TV news coverage and dozens of newspaper stories.

"This case has had a tremendous amount of publicity," says attorney Pete Donaldson.

It's publicity the defense believes could prevent a fair trial. 

"It's terrible to ask jurors to disabuse their minds of 182 news coverage clips, and that's what there are, 182 clips of this case and that's why we're asking for it," says Donaldson. 

 Prosecutors disagree.  "I think that the jurors picked in Lee County will do everything in their power to put aside what they've heard about the case and make their decision only on the evidence they hear in the courtroom," says D.A. Cecilia Cooper. 

 In the courtroom today, there was testimony from T. Gamble, the lawyer hired by Wesley Beaver's family to sue Donnie Spillers.

Defense lawyers say Gamble's media interviews could sway potential jurors in the criminal trial.

"It appears that everytime we are about to go to court that there is a news story or interview or something that's, to me, designed to illicit sympathy actually for the civil case, but it's still publicity that reflects on the criminal case," says Donaldson.

The defense is also worried that supporters of the Beaver family might demonstrate outside the courthouse during the trial.  That's an issue the judge, himself, tackled head-on in court today.

"One thing that would only compound the tradegy would be to try this case and end up having it reversed due to inappropriate behavior here in the courtroom and on the courthouse property," said Judge Rucker Smith.

But the issue of just which courthouse property isn't yet resolved.  The defense would like for the case to be tried two counties to the north. 

"Schley County is a county where the news coverage seems to come mostly out of Columbus as opposed to out of Albany so the problems that you would have out of that county would not be too difficult," says Donaldson.

 The judge says if he does grant a change of venue, he won't move the trial, he'll import jurors from elsewhere.

He will hear additional motions on the change of venue evidence Tuesday and then make a decision. The trial will likely be held the third week in May.

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