Motions were heard at Harvey County District Court today (Tuesday) regarding the capital murder case of Jereme Nelson. Some were resolved prior to the hearing, while a handful were argued by the prosecution and the defense before final rulings were made.
To ensure a fair trial was a common theme behind many of the motions, according to members of the defense (appointed from the Death Penalty Defense Unit). Nelson is charged with capital and first-degree murder and facing the death penalty following a triple homicide that occurred in Harvey County (near Alta Mills, between Hesston and Moundridge) on Oct. 30, 2016.
In seeking a fair trial, the defense brought forward a motion to prohibit all extrajudicial statements by trial participants.
"What is said in court should be the extent of what the media can cover in this case," said Jeff Dazey, attorney for the defense.
Arguing for the prosecution (the State of Kansas), county attorney David Yoder said the motion was overbroad and noted the prosecution already complies with the court's code of conduct in limiting such statements. Yoder admitted he has already directed local authorities to forward any trial inquiries to his office.
While the code of conduct does not extend to citizens, witnesses, etc., Yoder pointed out those are parties his office has no authority over, though he did offer to include language in any subpoenas sent out to restrict any discussion about the case with third parties (i.e. media, members of the public).
Chief Judge Joe Dickinson granted the defense's motion to prohibit extrajudicial statements, pointing out that there are natural limitations regarding those the state has control over.
Regarding the presentation of those involved and the environment surrounding the trial, the defense also made a motion to exclude cameras from the court room, with concerns of "intimidation" of witnesses that might affect Nelson's constitutional right to a fair trial.
Yoder opposed the motion on the basis that the prosecution has seen nothing in the case that raises cause for such concern. Attorney Lyndon B. Vix, of Fleeson, Gooing, Coulson and Kitch (and representing a group of local media outlets), agreed that right to a fair trial is important, but also saw no threat to that in this case.
"Pure speculation is not enough to evoke a sixth amendment right," Vix said.
Given that the prosecution offered to work with the defense in limiting both the number of cameras in the court room and who is depicted on camera, the motion to exclude such devices was denied, though a limit of one video camera and one photographer was imposed. Dickinson noted he does not anticipate any problems as long as the rules are filed.
Finally, the last motion addressed at the hearing also dealt with appearances, though more particularly relating to Nelson, as the defense asked that he be allowed to appear in court in civilian clothes and without visible restraints.
Taking no issue with the idea of Nelson appearing in civilian clothes, Yoder did argue strongly about the necessity of restraints, as the prosecution considers the defendant a severe flight risk. Nelson was arrested in Mexico on Jan. 12, 2017, and eventually extradited back to Harvey County.
"We are extremely and adamantly opposed to the defendant appearing without any restraints whatsoever," Yoder said.
Additionally, Yoder pointed out the limitations of the Harvey County Detention Center, which solely utilizes leg, arm and waist chains as the only available means of restraint at this time, though attorney for the defense Mark Manna suggested a loan arrangement with Sedgwick County authorities — as they do have concealed restraints available.
If the Sheriff's Office would be satisfied with the restraint system, then Yoder noted the state would have no opposition to a concealed restraint arrangement, leading Dickinson to allow the motion for civilian clothing and non-visible restraints.
Preliminary hearing for the trial was also set at Tuesday's proceedings, with Sept. 6 and 7 agreed upon by both parties. Proceedings will being at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 6. Additionally, discussion on one motion regarding the disclosure of probable cause affidavits was postponed until 1 p.m. on May 19.