Murder trial will not be heard in Lassen County
May 31, 2013 — Two defendants charged with the murder of an off-duty Susanville city police officer Robert McElrath will not be tried in Lassen County.
On Friday, May 31, Judge John T. Ball granted a change of venue request made by the attorneys of Joanna Lynne McElrath and Robin Glen James.
Ball said the evidence was overwhelming and the case cannot be tried in this county due to the prejudicial publicity.
The California Administrative Office of Courts and Judicial Council will determine where the location will be moved and Ball said it may take some time to obtain a location. A case review is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, June 14 in Lassen Superior Court.
Only the selection of the jury and the trial will be conducted out of Lassen County.
Ball quoted Penal Code 1033 (a), which said, “In a criminal action pending in the superior court shall order a change of venue, on motion of the defendant, to another court when it appears that there is a reasonable likelihood that a fair and impartial trial cannot be had in the county …”
In March, Dr. Edward Bronson, who was hired by the defense to conduct a change of venue study, testified 95 percent of the people surveyed recognized the case and a high number of people believed the defendants would be guilty.
In this situation, Ball said the court was relying on Bronson’s findings and the court also looked at factors including the nature of the publicity, the gravity of the crime, the victim and the size of the community.
McElrath and James remain in custody without bail on charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy as well as special allegations in the January 2011 death of Robert James McElrath, who was Joanna McElrath’s estranged husband.
It has been alleged that sometime in the evening of Jan. 1, 2011, Joanna McElrath allegedly ground up narcotic medications and put them in an alcoholic drink without Robert McElrath’s knowledge and then gave him more medication and told him it was aspirin. Once he was incoherent, it was alleged Robert McElrath was driven to Devil’s Corral, walked out onto the old vehicular bridge and was then shot once in the face at point blank range with his own duty weapon. His body was found near the riverbank the following day.
According to Ball, the extent of the publicity was “substantial” with 96 newspaper articles.
Regarding the nature of the publicity, Ball quoted Bronson who said it was the strongest example of prejudicial publicity as the media gained access to files that were supposed to be sealed but remained opened. He said 10 articles were published containing messages that allegedly occurred during the course of the alleged event.
In addition, Ball said the gravity of the crime is the “most grave and serious” of any law.
McElrath was not only a police officer, but a former United States Marine and Ball said the murder of a police officer is a highly sympathetic crime.
Regarding the size of the community, Ball said the low population of Lassen County — 34,176 as of 2012 — would further limit the court to impanel a jury unfamiliar with the case.
Susanville native to play in college bowl with Boise State
Darren Lee, a Lassen High School graduate and former Lassen High football player, now plays football for Boise State and will be going with the team to a college bowl game in late December. Photo by Boise State Media Relations Dec. 6 — A Susanville native is making strides in his football career...Read More...
Lady Grizzlies celebrate a championship season
Miranda Langenhorst, back left, Mikailia Bustamante, Melica Woodhead, Dana Lovelace, Makenna Busse, Klari Scheff, bottom left, Hailey Hannah, Stevie Woodbury, Myeisha Shepard, Emilee Downing, Gabi Geoia and Jayde Hartzell pose together with the awards they were presented with at the Lassen High School...Read More...
Grizzlies soccer team plays tough, rain or shine
The Lassen High School boy’s soccer team is ready to give its opponents tough competition this year. The team is made up of Andy Wotjen, back left, Jon Langston, Cyrus White, Michael Pelfrey, Josh Schmidt, Jason Lilly, Jake Morgan, Jayce Gray, Carson Friedline, Garrison Collier, Jesus Garibo, Robert...Read More...