Fred Russell’s vehicular homicide trial will be held in Cowlitz County beginning Oct. 15, Judge David Frazier ruled Tuesday.
Frazier granted a one-week delay to allow prosecutors to prepare more than 60 witnesses to appear at the courthouse in Kelso. Cowlitz County is in southwestern Washington, north of Clark County. Frazier said in a hearing Monday that he liked the county because it was near a major metropolitan area with an airport but outside the major media markets in Washington.
Frazier ruled Monday that the trial would be moved, after both he and prosecutors agreed with Russell’s defense team that it would be difficult or impossible to seat an impartial jury in Whitman County, given intense media coverage of the case.
Russell is accused of three counts each of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault in a June 2001 crash on the Moscow-Pullman Highway that left three dead and three injured. His defense team argued in July that the trial should be moved, and it commissioned a survey of Whitman County residents that showed the vast majority already believed Russell was guilty.
Prosecutors opposed the motion initially but changed their minds after reading Frazier’s comments from the July hearing, in which he discussed the intensity of local interest in the case. At that time, Frazier said he’d try first to empanel a jury in Whitman County, and then bring in jurors from a nearby county if that didn’t work. But he said Monday that he’d become convinced that would be logistically impossible and the safest course was to move the proceedings.
Frazier also is being asked to dismiss the charges or suppress blood-test results in the case because the state toxicology lab lost two vials of Russell’s blood. Prosecutors say the tests show Russell was drunk at the time of the wreck, but the defense argues that since the blood samples were lost, Russell’s fair-trial right to challenge the evidence has been compromised.
Frazier is set to issue a written ruling on that matter this week.
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