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Lawyers want to change venue for death penalty trial

No trial date set for Maryland teen charged in sexual assault and stabbing death

POSTED: March 21, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Lawyers for a 19-year-old Maryland man facing the possibility of the death penalty want his trial moved out of Hall County, saying news media coverage of his case has prejudiced potential jurors.

In a motion for change of venue, attorneys for Allan Robert Dickie write, "The publicity in just the print media alone in this case has generated extreme and overwhelmingly negative reactions on the part of Hall County residents against Mr. Dickie."

The motion, filed recently in Hall County Superior Court by Office of the Georgia Capital Defender attorneys Doug Ramseur and Joe Vigneri, cites no examples of public reactions against their client, but references a collection of news articles about Dickie’s case that were attached to an earlier defense motion.

Dickie is charged in the Aug. 26 sexual assault and stabbing death of 37-year-old Claudia Toppin, a homeless woman whose body was discovered in a supermarket parking lot on Pearl Nix Parkway.

In November, District Attorney Lee Darragh filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Dickie on charges of rape, kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated sodomy and murder.

Darragh has not indicated whether he would oppose moving the trial out of Hall County.

Change of venue motions are often made in high-profile cases that attract media attention. In some cases where there has been a large amount of news coverage, the motions have been granted.

A Forsyth County judge moved the death penalty trial of convicted antifreeze poisoner Lynn Turner to Whitfield County after deciding that extensive pre-trial publicity, including national television news coverage, made seating an impartial jury in Forsyth County impossible.

In their motion, Dickie’s attorneys note that their client "is on trial for his life."

In order to have a fair trial heard by an impartial jury, a change of venue is necessary, according his attorneys.

"The circumstances of this case along with the publicity and community knowledge and sentiment surrounding it, clearly indicate ... that a refusal to grant a change of venue would unequivocally deny the defendant due process of law," the motion states.

Superior Court Judge Jason Deal has not set a trial date, and many preliminary matters must be settled before the case is scheduled for trial.

The motion for change of venue was one of more than 50 defense pretrial motions Dickie’s attorneys filed recently in Hall County Superior Court, a number that is not unusual in a death penalty case.



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