Holzer trial will stay here ... for now

Austin Holzer

The trial for accused killer Austin Holzer will take place in Mesa County, a judge ruled Friday.

At least for now.

Mesa County District Judge Richard Gurley last week rejected an argument by Holzer’s lawyers that publicity surrounding the 2016 slaying of Mesa County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Geer had tainted the prospective jury pool.

Public Defender Sheryl Uhlmann in September sought to have her now 19-year-old client’s upcoming murder trial moved out of the county, relying in part on testimony from a pollster hired by her office who said more than 72 percent of Mesa County residents interviewed in a survey believed Holzer was guilty of murdering Geer.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Trish Mahre opposed the request, arguing that Uhlmann hadn’t proved media coverage of Holzer’s case has been “massive, pervasive and prejudicial” to the point that an impartial jury would be impossible to find.

Gurley wrote in a 14-page ruling that Uhlmann had not presented sufficient evidence to prove a presumption of prejudice in the Mesa County jury pool.

He detailed several issues he had with the polling methods of the company hired by Holzer’s attorneys, including the pollsters’ lack of questioning about whether survey takers would be able to set aside their preconceptions of Holzer if chosen to serve on a jury.

“Moreover, the court also has serious doubts concerning the probative value of an opinion poll taken by private pollsters who were paid by one of the parties,” Gurley wrote.

Gurley wrote that “laudatory” media reports about Geer, as well as public fundraisers for his family or bumper stickers referring to support for police don’t necessitate a change of venue.

“Emotional expressions of support for a fallen law enforcement officer are to be expected in any community, and Mesa County is no exception,” Gurley wrote.

He wrote that he placed little weight on evidence Uhlmann presented about widespread negative social media comments about Holzer, “because there is no evidence that the online comments fairly represent the sentiments of the entire pool of eligible jurors in Mesa County.”

While some stories Uhlmann submitted from The Daily Sentinel and other media outlets described Holzer as a sex offender and noted arguments from both sides’ mental health expert witnesses about whether Holzer is a psychopath, “most of the media reports have simply described the facts and circumstances of the case and have generally reported those facts in a professional manner without unduly inflammatory language,” Gurley wrote.

There’s still a chance Holzer’s trial could move, however.

Gurley wrote he might change his mind about moving the trial once the jury pool is actually summoned and prospective jurors are questioned by attorneys.

“Hopefully there will not be extensive media coverage of the case just prior to the start of the trial such that it makes enpaneling an impartial jury impossible,” Gurley said. “The court will reconsider the motion based on actual prejudice after (questioning of the jurors by attorneys) is completed.”

Holzer is due back in court on Oct. 20.


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