GREAT FALLS (AP) Concern over finding an impartial jury for the kidnapping and sexual assault trial of Nathaniel Bar-Jonah dominated a District Court hearing here Wednesday, with a defense expert conceding that moving the trial may not solve the problem.
No matter where we move the trial, there is going to be a very high presumption of guilt, said Alan Cohen, a Seattle psychologist and jury consultant hired by Bar-Jonahs attorneys.
Widespread media attention, prompted by unrelated allegations that Bar-Jonah murdered and butchered 10-year-old Zachary Ramsay and fed his body to neighbors, will continue regardless of where the trial takes place, he told District Judge Kenneth Neill.
No matter where the trial is going to be held, were going to see the media perk up in that area.
Neill ordered attorneys on both sides to agree by Aug. 6 on a questionnaire for prospective jurors as a way to measure any bias against Bar-Jonah based on news coverage of the case.
The judge delayed a decision on a defense request to conduct the murder trial before the trial on charges that he kidnapped and sexually assaulted three Great Falls boys. The sexual assault and kidnapping trial is scheduled for Sept. 10.
The defense argues that having the murder trial, in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, after the kidnapping-assault trial will create unacceptable prejudice when Bar-Jonah is on trial for his life.
Neill also did not rule on a defense request to throw out evidence found in Bar-Jonahs apartment that prosecutors contend links him to the kidnap and assault victims, and to dismiss the charges against the former Massachusetts man.
Bar-Jonah attended Wednesdays hearing, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and in handcuffs and ankle chains. His bushy beard was replaced with a goatee. He did not speak during the two-hour court hearing.
Cohen, who conducted a survey in three Montana counties to gauge public opinion about Bar-Jonah, said he found a high percentage of people presuming the accused is guilty. The findings ranged between 48 percent and 71 percent, depending on the amount of news coverage given the case, he said.
The inflammatory nature of the material tended to demonize Mr. Bar-Jonah, he said.
Cohen recommended moving the trial to Yellowstone County in southeastern Montana.
The defense request to reject evidence and the charges is based on the claim that a search of Bar-Jonah after he was stopped near an elementary school in December 1999 was illegal. That search, in which police said they found Bar-Jonah carrying a stun gun, led to warrants for police to search his home.
Among the items found there were photos of the assault victims in various stages of undress and a list of boys names, including Zachary Ramsay, according to court records.
The prosecution said the police encounter with Bar-Jonah, who has a history of crimes against children, was legitimate.
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