PASCO -- Court administrators have had "limited success" in finding a courthouse outside of Franklin County that can accommodate the Nov. 8 trial of Vicente Ruiz, a judge said Thursday.
Benton-Franklin Superior Court Administrator Pat Austin, along with State Court Administrator Jeff Hall, have looked at all counties across Washington and even federal courthouses but with little luck, said Judge Cameron Mitchell.
"Up until this morning or last night, I guess, no positive responses regarding availability of courtrooms for the November timeframe," Mitchell told prosecutors and defense lawyers.
Thurston County is again checking its courtroom space, Douglas County has indicated it can take the murder trial in late December through early February, and Clark County has room in February.
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Spokane County also is a possibility.
Ruiz is facing his third trial in the 1987 slayings of five men inside a Pasco garage.
Mitchell has granted a defense motion to try the case in a new venue, saying there's a "good possibility" the Franklin County jury pool is prejudiced, given extensive media coverage of the 23-year-old case.
Ruiz, 45, is charged with five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of first-degree attempted murder.
Ruiz's first attempt at trial ended before the jury was even picked in 2008 to allow further DNA tests on a straw hat in evidence.
His second trial also ended in a mistrial, but this time after jurors were seated and started listening to testimony in the case. Mitchell had ruled June 22 that stacks of police reports the defense never received could be favorable to Ruiz, and granted lawyers two months to investigate the new evidence.
Austin and Hall have spent more than a month contacting other court administrators in the state to see who has courtroom space.
They also have looked at surrounding counties to see if a jury can be selected there and then bused in daily for a trial in Franklin County, but Mitchell said the responses to that also have been less than favorable.
"It brings some frustration in trying to have this matter addressed and finding a location," said Mitchell. He is concerned because wherever the trial is held, summons need to go out in advance for potential jurors and attorneys must schedule their witnesses and make flight arrangements.
Mitchell took a brief recess during the Thursday hearing to call Austin and see if further discussions with other administrators that morning had been "more fruitful." He returned to say there still was no definitive decision.
"At this point I don't have any other guidance to give the parties," he said.
The judge said he hoped to have more information for a Sept. 17 hearing.