Attorneys for Toby Griego, a man accused of committing a series of rapes and attempted rapes in Billings, have filed a motion to have his trial moved from Yellowstone County.
They say media coverage of the case has “inflamed the prejudice of community passions.”
Griego, 41, faces 40 charges in connection to a string of robberies, sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults from earlier this year. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges at an arraignment on Nov. 19.
David Duke, Griego’s public defender, filed the motion to change venue on Monday. John Bartleson is also listed on the motion as an attorney for Griego.
Included with the motion are dozens of pages of news clips about the Griego case, the investigation leading to his arrest and media coverage of a women’s self-defense class – held in response to the attacks – at MSU Billings that was attended by more than 700 people.
Duke points out that Montana state law allows for a trial to be moved to a new venue if “there exists in the county in which the charge is pending such prejudice that a fair trial cannot be had in the county.”
The motion does not state where Griego’s defense would like to have the trial moved. Duke could not be reached Wednesday.
“The coverage of Griego’s case has been inflammatory, which has inflamed the prejudice of the community to such an extent that a reasonable possibility exists the accused may not receive a fair and impartial trial,” the motion concludes.
Duke also included with the motion several pages of online comments posted to a Gazette story about Griego. Some of the commenters suggested it would be appropriate for Griego to be killed, tortured or sexually assaulted.
Duke also filed a motion on Monday to split the 40 charges against Griego into six groups.
The motion argues that not splitting the charges up would cause unfair prejudice against Griego.
“No doubt the jury would look at the volume of charges and conclude Griego must be a ‘bad man,’ and accumulate evidence until the jury found Griego guilty of something,” the motion states.
Yellowstone County Chief Deputy Attorney Rod Souza, a prosecutor assigned to the case, declined to comment Wednesday on the motion to change venue because the case against Griego is ongoing.
He said the prosecution’s response to the motion will likely be filed by the end of next week and that a hearing on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 10.
Griego’s trial is scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 22. If convicted of any of the rape charges, Griego would face a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole because of a prior sexual offense conviction in New Mexico, court records say.
He is being held at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility. His bond is $1 million.