Phelps moves for venue change

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The defense attorneys for Brandon Michael Phelps have requested a change of venue for his upcoming capital trial set to begin March 27.

Public Defender Frank Pierce expressed doubt that Phelps could receive a fair trial before a jury untainted by pre-trial publicity.

Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Fregiato overruled without prejudice, adding that the matter will be considered should the issue be substantiated in the course of the trial.

In other matters, defense noted that one of the state’s witnesses had taken a polygraph test and was found to be deceptive on some key questions. Defense attorneys wished to use this as evidence, but Fregiato ruled that polygraphs are not admissible in the state unless stipulated by both parties.

In logistical matters, Fregiato proposed that as each prospective juror is interviewed, the court will death-qualify them along with the typical selection procedures, rather than create an entire death-qualified pool and the restart the process again. Fregiato said he expects the process to take slightly longer for each juror, but the overall process should be shorter.

Prosecutor Dan Fry also noted that the state intended to order additional DNA testing on hair found at the scene of the crime. Defense objected, noting this would introduce new evidence very late in the case.

Jury selection will begin March 27.

Phelps, 21, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire, is accused of four counts of aggravated murder, committed in the course of rape, of aggravated burglary, of burglary and of trespassing. Each count of murder carries a death penalty specification.

His co-defendant, Devin Wayne Fuller, 21, 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire, was given a sentence of life without parole for of aggravated murder committed in the course of aggravated burglary, one count of aggravated burglary, and one count of burglary.

Lydia Ashworth, 92, was found murdered in her home June 30, 2012.

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