The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

March 5, 2014

Social media cited in venue change filing

OTTUMWA — Prosecutors and defense attorneys sparred over media in court filings to determine whether Robert Pilcher’s retrial will be in Ottumwa.

Pilcher is accused of first-degree murder in the 1974 death of Mary Jayne Jones. A Wapello County jury was unable to reach a verdict in Pilcher’s first trial. Prosecutors have asked for a change of venue, a request the defense opposes.

While media coverage is often cited as a reason for a change of venue, prosecutors also cite the defense’s own use of social media during the trial. According to the state’s filing, “social media was used by the defense during this case to express opinions about the evidence and jury deliberations.”

The defense says none of the media accounts, social or otherwise, preclude a retrial in Wapello County. If any prejudice exists as a result, attorneys said, it’s against Pilcher.

In the filing resisting the change of venue request, the defense said “the majority of media coverage, as in most criminal cases, has been pro-State.”

Professor Emily Hughes of the University of Iowa said she hasn't heard of similar cases where social media by attorneys was an issue in a request for change of venue, but it's not a surprise. She said the rise of social media is presenting new issues to the courts, just as it is to other parts of life.

The judge has not ruled on the request. Pilcher’s retrial is currently scheduled to begin March 25 and is expected to last 10 days.

Other filings in the case include a prosecution request to admit statements made by Ernest Marlin to authorities shortly after the murder. Marlin and his wife discovered Jones’ body. Prosecutors say the account of investigators’ questioning of Marlin should be admitted since Marlin died and thus cannot be called to personally testify.

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