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Caruthers denied change of venue

With just more than a month before trial, Circuit Judge Wendy Wexler-Horn ruled on motions filed by the defense counsel of Anthony Caruthers during a hearing on Friday.

Caruthers faces several charges in connection with the 2016 murder of Michael VanStavern and the subsequent burglarizing of the victim’s Farmington apartment.

The motions sought to allow Caruthers to appear in court unshackled and in civilian clothes, to compel the prosecution to reveal any deals made with a prospective witness in the case, and to hold the trial outside St. Francois County because of possible difficulty in finding an impartial jury due to, in the defense’s opinion, media attention surrounding the case.

St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin said the state offered no objection to the motion for Caruthers to appear unshackled and in civilian clothes, as it is generally normal practice in such cases.

The motion to reveal deals with state witnesses was related to a case involving Jeremy Reed, who recently entered an Alford plea to charges of second-degree burglary and tampering with physical evidence in connection with Caruthers’ case.

Mahurin said no deal was offered to Reed related to testifying against Caruthers.

The prosecution did file an objection to the motion for a change of venue, arguing that an impartial jury could still be found in St. Francois County.

Attorney Ramona Gau argued the media’s attention to Caruthers’ case violated his right to a fair and impartial trial, as information related to the case has been widely reported.

Mahurin said the motion was based on the assumption that every person in St. Francois County had read previous stories about Caruthers’ case. Judge Horn said she understood the reason for the motion and recognized the concern as legitimate, but overruled the motion.

Following the hearing, Mahurin said he did not see the merit in the motion as the case has received no more attention than other comparable cases.

“I would say it’s probably received less media attention than, say, the Melvin Scherrer case,” he said. “And it’s been about the same as some of our other recent murders. Obviously, there have been articles on it and the radio stations have asked about it.

“The reporting of facts is pretty standard. I think that’s done, basically, across the country. And that’s why we have the voir dire process — to weed out people who have heard about it or who have already made up their minds.”

In his six years as prosecuting attorney, Mahurin said, he has never encountered a situation in which an impartial jury could not be found because of media attention. A mistrial was declared in a 2016 jury selection due to information published the morning of the proceedings, but the trial went ahead a month later.

“We could have 100 jurors come in and all of them have read the paper and know everything about it,” Mahurin said. “At the same time, we could have 100 come in and none of them have read anything about it. So, saying that everybody in the county is ‘poisoned’ — that’s possible, but I don’t think that’s very likely. That’s why we ask the jurors all the questions.”

Caruthers will face a jury trial April 23-24 for the charges of first-degree murder, armed criminal action, two counts of second-degree burglary, theft/stealing, two counts of tampering with a motor vehicle, tampering with physical evidence in a felony prosecution, resisting arrest and attempted escape from custody.

Caruthers

Caruthers

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at jscott@dailyjournalonline.com.

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