Change of venue may come in McElrath case
March 29, 2013 — Testimony given in a change of venue hearing for two people charged in the alleged murder of an off-duty Susanville police officer revealed a larger number of people knew about the case and believed the defendants would be guilty.
Joanna Lynne McElrath and Robin Glen James, along with their attorneys, appeared in Lassen Superior Court for the Friday, March 29 hearing.
Dr. Edward Bronson, who was hired by the defense to conduct a change of venue study, was called as the witness. He answered questions from both McElrath’s attorney, Bud Landreth, and Lassen County District Attorney Bob Burns.
Regarding the McElrath case, Bronson said it is a “very strong candidate for a change of venue motion recommendation.”
Visiting Judge John T. Ball set the matter for a hearing at 2 p.m. May 31 when the “court will render its order on the matter.”
According to Bronson, he developed a public opinion survey, which his staff commissioned in the fall of 2012. He also reviewed the newspaper and television publicity.
During questioning from Burns, Bronson confirmed 94.49 percent of the people surveyed recognized the case. If people responded yes, they were asked the pre-judgment questions and it was found a large number of people believed the defendants would be guilty.
Bronson said he has conducted approximately 200 change of venue surveys, which included some “awfully notorious cases,” but the McElrath case ranked about the fourth highest in terms of pre-judgment.
Joanna McElrath and James are being held in custody without bail on charges of premeditated murder and conspiracy in the January 2011 death of Susanville Police Officer Robert James McElrath who was Joanna McElrath’s estranged husband.
During the hearing, both the defense and prosecution established Bronson as an expert in change of venue motions.
According to Burns, he was personally aware of Bronson’s work, but has never spoken with him personally. But, in essence, Bronson has the gold standard in change of venue motions and most of the time, he recommends against a change of venue.
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