Crime

Change of venue denied in Ruiz trial

PASCO -- A Franklin County judge on Friday again denied a request to move Vicente Ruiz's murder trial out of town, saying he still believes the 14 jurors seated earlier this week "could be fair and impartial."

Judge Cameron Mitchell's ruling came as the court awaits a decision on the same issue by the Washington state Court of Appeals.

The trial remains in a holding pattern while Commissioner Joyce J. McCown in Spokane reviews documents filed by defense lawyers and prosecutors.

McCown, who agreed Tuesday to a quick review of the issue, also asked for transcripts of the interviews with the 12 jurors and two alternates. Those transcripts totaled 216 pages and were sent to McCown by Mitchell's court reporter, Cheryl Pelletier, on Friday morning.

It is not known when McCown will release her decision.

Meanwhile, the jurors picked Monday are still waiting to hear if they must return to Franklin County Superior Court for opening statements in Ruiz's trial or if their jury duty is over.

Ruiz, 45, is accused of gunning down six men inside Medina's Body Shop in Pasco in 1987. He is charged with five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of first-degree attempted murder.

Defense lawyers claim the entire jury pool has been "contaminated by the media, discussion in court and conversations outside of court."

The defense says the trial needs to be moved to get a neutral panel. Mitchell initially denied their change-of-venue motion May 6.

They renewed that motion Friday after McCown questioned if they'd taken it back to Mitchell.

Bob Thompson said the 22-year-old case is "part of the fabric of this community." Ruiz can't get "a fair shake" in Franklin County because longtime residents remember the crime and newer residents have been exposed to media coverage or community conversations, he said.

Thompson gave credit to Mitchell for his "heroic effort" to get an unbiased panel, but said he doesn't think it's possible here.

"This case is just too problematic," he said. "There has been too much publicity, there are too many opinions."

Deputy Prosecutor Frank Jenny argued that a "large number of the prospective jurors were extensively interviewed" and there is no reason to move the trial because the current panel is sufficient.

Mitchell said McCown's decision "may change things," but said he stood by his earlier ruling.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com

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