Jury selection in BHS case to begin today
BLACKFOOT — The trials for two of the five former Blackfoot High School athletes charged with various misdemeanors stemming from incidents that occurred last year during the basketball season will not be moved, pending the outcome of a jury selection scheduled for today.
Jury voir dire will occur today for Nathan Walker's trial. Walker is charged with five counts of misdemeanor false imprisonment and one count of aiding and abetting.
"We already have 100 prospective jurors coming in," Roos said. "I think it's best, since we have already summoned those people in, we make the attempt."
While 100 jurors have been summoned, only 85 will be required to appear after the prosecution and defense agreed to disqualify 15 potential jurors.
Despite jury selection scheduled for today, Walker's attorney Steve Blaser argued that they will be unable to get a fair and impartial jury in Bingham County due to saturated media coverage of the case.
"This first came out as a hazing incident," Blaser said. "When the word hazing came out it picked up and went wild."
He also said despite felony sexual penetration charges being dropped for all defendants, people still consider those charges when considering the misdemeanor charges.
"The people are still tainted in the back of their minds," Blaser said.
In addition to the media saturation, Blaser also said the trial should be moved because several of the victims and witnesses are juveniles whose identities may easily be revealed in a local trial.
"Everybody knows everybody," he said.
Justin Oleson, defense attorney for Logan Chidester, said he didn't realize the extent of the media coverage until he began looking into it. Chidester faces six charges of misdemeanor false imprisonment and two counts of battery.
"I wasn't aware of the extent of the publicity until we started looking into it," Oleson said. "If they're honest, most of them will have some sort of opinion."
Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Randy Smith said much of the media coverage has come from the defense attorneys speaking to the media, and that a fair and impartial jury should be achievable.
"I don't think the defense have shown there is an inability to get a fair and impartial jury," Smith said. "If all we're dealing with is a fair, impartial jury I think we can do it."
Roos said because there was no motion to change the venue made during the pretrial hearing and the county has already endured the expense of mailing jury questionnaires, they will move ahead with the trial as scheduled.
"The last thing I want is any sort of jury to be prejudiced," Roos said. "Just because there's news coverage doesn't mean you cant find a fair and impartial jury."
If enough jurors cannot be found in Walker's case, Roos said he will order a change of venue and the case will be referred to the Idaho Supreme Court, which will determine where the trial will be held.
Currently, Walker is scheduled for a jury trial March 8, and Chidester's is scheduled for March 22. The third adult defendant, Anthony Clarke, is scheduled for a pretrial hearing today. The fourth, Tyson Katseanes, pleaded guilty to one count misdemeanor battery last month. The fifth is being tried as a juvenile next week.