BENTON — One of the issues a lot of observers in the case of a Marshall County teenager facing charges in a fatal 2018 school shooting have mentioned since early in that case is changing the location for a trial.
Monday, the defense for Gabriel Parker filed a motion for change of venue in Marshall Circuit Court. Parker is accused of multiple offenses, including two counts of murder in the January 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School in Draffenville.
The motion precedes a court date next week in Benton that Marshall Circuit Judge James T. Jameson had scheduled previously. It is possible that change of venue will be discussed at that time.
The motion was filed by Parker’s lead attorney, Tom Griffiths of Danville, along with Doug Moore of Paducah, who became the main assistant in the case earlier this year after the person who started in that position, Angela Troutman, was not able to continue with the case after taking a new position.
That motion makes several arguments.
“The charges generated a great deal of publicity in local, regional and national news. In addition, the issue of school safety has kept this case in the forefront of news coverage and has made it the focus of media campaigns revolving around legislation in Frankfort,” the motion read, its language becoming stronger as it continued.
“The allegations are sensational and involved multiple local victims. The local population has a great deal of contact with Marshall County High School, the victims and their family members, and many have formed opinions that will influence their decision at trial. Marshall County has a single high school, which means the majority of jurors either attended the school or have a relative with a close relationship with the school. This is an additional factor which prevents such jurors from sitting on the case with an unbiased mind.”
In addition, the motion says that Marshall County residents themselves have expressed doubts about Parker’s ability to receive a fair trial in Marshall County due to the level of attention this case has received and “the sensational nature of the charges.” Also mentioned is last August’s Night Before Fancy Farm event in Murray in which retired Marines Col. Oliver North was the speaker.
“The choice of the National Rifle Association to hold a rally in adjacent Calloway County generated additional negative publicity, as protestors for and against the NRA and Oliver North (of Iran Contra fame) clashed on the streets of Murray,” the motion read, going on to also mention how the 1997 fatal shooting at Heath High School near Paducah is still heavily on the minds of western Kentuckians.
The motion also discusses social media’s involvement in this case and how in a county with a population of about 31,000 people, the initial article on this case was viewed more than 713,000 times and shared nearly 11,000 times. It also specifically mentions the comments of a social media user named B.J. Posey that the motion says, “speak clearly to the community sentiment.”
“I’m no legal expert but it seems pretty cut and dry. Kid went in, killed two and wounded others,” Posey allegedly said in language included in the motion. “I mean honestly no matter what else comes into play, nothing will change who was behind the gun pulling the trigger. Two consecutive life sentences plus multiple attempted murders seems fitting. Kid shouldn’t see the light of day again.”
The motion concludes that “it is no longer possible to fairly seat a jury in his case from a pool of Marshall County citizens or other jurors from the Purchase Area of Kentucky. Defendant (Parker) respectfully petitions this court to enter an order transferring venue of this case to a county outside of Marshall County or the adjacent counties in order to ensure the protection of the defendant’s rights as guaranteed by statute and the federal and state constitutions.”
Marshall Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust said he was aware that the motion was filed Monday and was taking his time to analyze it.
“We are still dissecting it and we will be filing a response (Tuesday) morning,” Foust said, when reached Monday afternoon. “We’ll go over it with a fine-toothed comb and see everything there is to it. However, the law is the law and this is something where the judge will have to make the decision as far as what to do.”
Jameson set the trial date for the case in early March. That date will be in summer 2020 and, at the time, Griffiths said he was supportive of Jameson setting the trial for that far into the future.
“Now we can start working on finding a place that can handle this case,” Griffiths said on the afternoon of March 10, going on to say that this case could be tried as far away as the central portion of the commonwealth. “You also have to consider that we have to have a place where we can sit a jury, with a large enough court system to accommodate this.”
From the start, Foust has said that change of venue would be entirely a defense idea.
“My hope is we can do this in Marshall County,” he said on March 10.
The next court date in this case will be May 17. Individuals facing charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.