Changing venues may help ensure fair trials in high-profile cases

Monday, August 19, 2013
Keith L. Monia
George Joseph

Two defendants in high-profile cases in Southeast Missouri have requested changes of venue to ensure they receive a fair trial.

Attorneys for Keith Monia and George Joseph filed motions for changes of venue in their clients' cases, citing concerns about pretrial publicity that could taint the pool of potential jurors if the cases go to trial.

Joseph, 48, faces charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in connection with the May 30 shooting deaths of his wife, Mary, and 18-year-old son, Matthew.

His attorney, Bryan Greaser, said heavy media coverage of the case could make it difficult to find unbiased jurors.

"They may have some preconceived notions about the case," Greaser said.

Meanwhile, Monia, 52, faces criminal charges in two counties and a lawsuit accusing him of fraud and financial exploitation of the elderly.

Monia drew media attention after a probable-cause affidavit filed in Scott County suggested a possible business relationship between him and Joseph.

Jeffrey Dix, who is representing Monia in his civil case, said that information is irrelevant to the lawsuit and wouldn't be admissible in court, but if jurors heard about it, it could affect their perception of Monia.

That isn't the only scenario in which inadmissible evidence can compromise a jury's objectivity.

When a Missouri court sends questionnaires to potential jurors, it blocks public access to online records pertaining to the case so potential jurors can't do their own advance research on the parties involved, Dix said.

If a news report about the case appeared before the questionnaires went out, however, potential jurors already might have looked up the defendant's online court records, he said.

If the defendant in a lawsuit were arrested on criminal charges, those charges probably would not be admissible in the civil case -- especially if the defendant had not been convicted -- but prior knowledge of their existence could influence a jury, Dix said.

That's the situation Dix's client faces at the moment. After a Jackson man sued Monia, prosecutors in Scott and Cape Girardeau counties filed multiple felony charges against him.

Monia has not been convicted on any of those charges.

David Mann, who is representing Monia on some of the criminal charges, could not be reached for comment on this story, but earlier this month, he filed motions for a change of judge and a change of venue in one of the Scott County cases.

Greaser said part of the difficulty of trying a high-profile case in this region is that Cape Girardeau is a "hub of communication," with multiple media outlets covering a fairly large geographic area.

"It's very difficult to find people in this area that might not have heard about this case and had preconceived notions," Greaser said. "It's human nature to develop opinions and think about a case when you hear bits and pieces. ... Ideally, you want to have people [on the jury] who don't have any information about the case."

The witnesses in Joseph's case are all local, so moving the entire trial could create logistical issues, Greaser said. In court last week, he and Angel Woodruff, assistant prosecuting attorney for Cape Girardeau County, discussed the possibility of importing a jury from Cole County or another part of the state to give Joseph a fair trial without a change of venue.

Circuit Judge Benjamin Lewis gave Greaser and Woodruff until Aug. 26 to decide how to proceed; if they have not reached an agreement by then, Lewis said, he will decide for them.

epriddy@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

1220 W. Cape Rock Drive, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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