Kicklighter murder suspect wants to change trial location • The Georgia Virtue

The suspected mastermind behind the murder of a Tattnall County resident says his case needs to be moved to another county to receive a fair trial.

So said Nathan Weekes’ attorneys, Jimmy Berry and Gerald Word, in court filings that are scheduled to be heard by a judge later this month. Weekes, through his attorneys, has also asked the court to “disqualify any potential juror who knew or was familiar with the victims or their families.”

Weekes is charged along with three others in the January 2021 murder of 88-year-old Bobby Kicklighter. The murder is an alleged contract killing directed at a correctional officer who lived next door. Weekes was an inmate at Smith State Penitentiary at the time and prosecutors have announced their intention to seek the death penalty in the case.

Application to change the venue

A change of location means that the judge, prosecutors and defense teams would travel to a different judicial district to select from a different pool of potential jurors. The relocation of the venue must be to districts or counties that are similarly located in terms of population and demographics.

Citing the right to a trial by an impartial jury, Weekes’ attorneys said on their filing that the court should grant a change of venue because:

  • The estimated population of adults between the ages of 18 and 65 is approximately 15,000
  • Chances are every adult in the Tattnall County community has read, seen, or heard evidence of this case at some point or another
  • Tattnall County’s official website reports that the prison, the county’s main employer, employs 1,400 people. “Because official GBI reports of Kicklighter’s death indicate that a prison guard was the real target of the killing, the case was brought to the attention of the local community, apart from those who knew and loved Mr. Kicklighter.” The attention was increased when Smith State Prison Warden Brian Adams was arrested as part of that investigation. The investigation has now spawned its own podcast on called Prison Town.”
  • “This crime has been the subject of much rumor and speculation within the community … it appears that law enforcement agencies were responsible for disseminating some of these untruths and misleading information.”

“The court of first instance must examine whether the pre-trial public relations created a “probability of prejudice” that justifies a change of location … The type of public relations is predominantly negative and is based on the prosecutor’s theory on the case. Tattnall County is served by two local weeklies and two local radio stations, as well as the daily Savannah Morning News. In addition, they are served by four television networks… Each of these media outlets has not only covered this story extensively in their respective media, print, radio and television, but each of them also has an extensive following on social media… These media outlets have been in… We attend all court hearings and oversee every aspect of the case.”

Motion to disqualify all potential jurors who knew or were familiar with the victims or their families

Weekes’ attorneys cited a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that found that jurors familiar with the victim or the victim’s family “are likely to be biased” and “unfit to judge on a grand jury.” act, even if the jury claims to be impartial.” able to decide the case solely on the basis of the evidence and the direction of the court.”

Prosecutors deny Weekes’ motions

Special Attorney Sheila Ross said in a motion filed May 19 that the state is seeking the court’s reservation of the court’s reservation on the change of venue request pending the “voir dire” procedure in jury selection. Ross’ motions cite another capital punishment case, State v. Kelly Gissendaner — in which the accused was executed in 2015 — because, considering the extensive media coverage, “the determining factor in deciding whether a change of venue is necessary is ‘the effect of’ the publicity about it.” the ability of potential jurors to be objective.

“Media coverage alone is not a reason for a change of location. And at the time of this filing, the parties do not know exactly when they will attempt to assemble a jury in this case,” the filing reads. “Here the defendant did not refer to inflammatory or inaccurate reporting, but only subjectively claimed that the reporting was ‘negative and based on the theory of the public prosecutor’s office’. Exposure to the public before the trial does not disqualify prospective jurors unless their opinions are so strong and unequivocal that they could not override them and make a decision based solely on the evidence presented in court.”

Ross cited a 1993 Tattnall County case in which the Georgia Court of Appeals dismissed a defendant’s relocation argument simply because of the nature of the relationship between the county and the prisons. In this case, the defendant was charged with assaulting a prison officer while he was in detention.

Regarding the disqualification of jurors who knew Kicklighter or his family, the state argues that there is “no legal ground” in requiring blanket apologies from potential jurors who knew or were acquainted with the victims or their families, disqualify a juror before asking them a single question.’

Ultimately, however, the decision rests with a judge.

Other high profile cases

It is not uncommon for defendants to seek relocation in both high-profile cases and death penalty cases. However, moving a process to another district of similar size and population presents a major burden to manage.

other cases

Ahmaud Arbery

One of the most notable cases of recent years is undoubtedly the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot dead in Glynn County. The handling of the case in the weeks that followed kept the case on national news channels for months and led to the appointment of a special prosecutor. However, the three men charged with his murder were all on trial in Glynn County.

Ross Harris

The infamous Ross Harris case, which charged Harris with the murder of his young son, who he left behind in a crashed vehicle in 2014, has been moved from Cobb County to Glynn County in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit. The request for a change of venue was made after jury selection began.

Heidt murders

In Effingham County, Craig Heidt was charged with the 2008 killing of his father and brother and seriously injuring his mother. This was due to the family’s prominent position in the community and his affair with his sister-in-law, who was married to one of them. After the deceased’s death, the case made national headlines. The court ultimately denied the motion to relocate.

Donnie Rowe and Ricky Dubose

Rowe and Dubose were charged with the 2017 murder of two GDC correctional officers who passed them during a prison transport. Sergeant. Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue were killed at their own guns. Dubose received the death penalty and Rowe received a life sentence for his role, and in those cases the state agreed to the defense’s request for a relocation out of “great caution.”

Ryan Duke

Duke was tried in 2021 for the murder of Tara Grinstead, a beauty queen whose death remained unsolved for decades and made headlines across the country. Defense attorneys moved to change jurisdiction to Irwin County, but the case ultimately stayed in Irwin County.