The lawyer for a nanny charged in the 2011 death of a Richland toddler said Friday he's concerned about the safety of his client and jurors after hearing members of an advocacy group may be attending the upcoming trial.
Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the Benton County Superior Court case of Kelli A. Jacobsen.
The 28-year-old woman has maintained her innocence on one count of first-degree manslaughter.
Jacobsen's attorney, Scott Johnson, requested Friday's hearing because he has "some concerns" about the group and wanted to bring them before Judge Vic VanderSchoor.
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"This isn't some banana republic. This is a criminal trial in the United States of America, where we don't do things by intimidation," Johnson said. "I don't know if they're coming, but I want to make the court aware of this."
Johnson never named the group in court.
The Herald learned Johnson was referring to Bikers Against Child Abuse, an international nonprofit organization with the mottos "Breaking the chains of abuse" and "No child should have to live in fear."
Upon hearing the allegations Friday afternoon, B.A.C.A. member Bob Byrd wanted to make it clear that the group's mission is to help children feel safer in their home environment, and to empower victims and their families to go to court and do what they need to move beyond the trauma.
Byrd is vice president of the Columbia Basin Chapter in Richland. He goes by the nickname "3 Bobs."
Byrd said the group has been following the case involving Ryder Morrison's death on June 22, 2011.
Morrison died while in surgery for head trauma. He had celebrated his first birthday the day before.
Prosecutors allege that Jacobsen, his nanny, recklessly caused the toddler's death by inflicting his injuries. Her charge includes aggravating circumstances that the boy was particularly vulnerable, incapable of resistance and his death had a destructive and foreseeable impact on others.
Byrd said some local bikers might watch the proceedings, but they will be spectators in court "just like anybody else," he told the Herald.
"We had intended to come and help support the family in their efforts to seek justice, but not in any way shape or form to intimidate anybody," Byrd said.
Byrd said they are advocates for victims of child abuse because it's "definitely an epidemic that's plaguing our nation."
The group works with authorized agencies and individuals and, after being told of a legitimate case that's in the system, the entire chapter will ride to meet the child and present him or her with their own vest with a B.A.C.A. patch, according to their mission statement.
The child is given the name and phone number of two group members who will lend physical and emotional support as long as the child needs them. Members will go with a child to court to help them be less frightened, but the group's website states that no physical confrontation of the perpetrator is tolerated.
Attorney Johnson said he learned of Bikers Against Child Abuse's interest in his case on Thursday from Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller.
Miller said he doesn't think there's any evidence of attempts to intimidate, but made sure to pass on the third-hand information to defense counsel.
Johnson noted that any member of the public has a right to attend the court because it is open, but told the judge he has some concerns after looking up past activities of the group.
Last September, bikers stood guard near Sacajawea Elementary School in Richland as children arrived for class in the morning and left campus in the afternoon.
The group reported that people weren't feeling safe because a registered sex offender lived in a home near the school, so they spent a week making sure the man didn't approach any of the students.
The man ended up leaving the area because he was tired of the scrutiny.
Judge VanderSchoor said Friday that if they should become an issue during trial, Superior Court administrators will make sure to set up special security. Jacobsen's trial is expected to last at least three weeks.