CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Kanawha Circuit Court judge denied a request for change of venue in the so-called Kanawha County sniper case.
Attorneys for Shawn Lester, the man accused in the sniper-style slayings of three people in Kanawha County in 2003, argued that extensive media coverage of the shootings had made it impossible for him to receive a fair trial here.
They submitted more than 201 local newspaper stories on the shootings, many of which depicted an atmosphere of fear in the days and weeks following the shootings. However, less than half of those stories were written after Lester's March 31 arrest.
Lester is accused of shooting Gary Carrier Jr., 44, Jeanie Patton, 31, and Okey Meadows Jr., 26, at three gas stations around Kanawha County over the course of a week in August 2003.
In an order issued Tuesday, Judge Duke Bloom wrote that Lester had failed to prove a change of venue is warranted.
"Although the Defendant presented evidence of extensive media coverage spanning approximately eight years regarding the crimes of which the Defendant is now charged, such evidence alone does not satisfy the Defendant's burden to show a present hostile sentiment extending throughout Kanawha County to warrant removing the case to another county," Bloom wrote in the order.
"The Defendant presented no evidence, in the form of affidavits or testimony, to show that citizens comprising the jury pool of Kanawha County are presently hostile towards the Defendant or have such fixed opinions based on the media coverage of the case..."
The court heard testimony last month from Dr. Guy Vitaglione, psychology professor at West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Montgomery. Vitaglione said at the time that scientific literature suggests "likelihood for some bias," according to the order's findings of fact.
However, Vitaglione also said he did not study the pre-trial publicity in Lester's case.