Posted: Oct 24, 2013 8:37 PM by Greg Tuttle - MTN News
Updated: Oct 24, 2013 8:38 PM
BILLINGS - A judge has ordered the trial of Michael Spell, accused of murdering Sherry Arnold, to be moved from Sidney to Glendive.
The Sidney Herald reported that Judge Richard Simonton ordered the change of venue in the Spell trial, which is set to begin January 6th.
Simonton made the ruling Thursday morning during a pre-trial hearing in Richland County District Court.
Spell's defense attorneys had asked for the change of venue, arguing that Spell could not receive a fair trial in the same town where he is accused of kidnapping and killing Arnold, a school teacher, in January 2012.
The Herald reported the defense hired Dr. Richard Seltzer, a political science professor at Howard University, to conduct a survey to determine whether an impartial jury could be seated in Richland County.
Seltzer reported that 97.5 percent of people surveyed had heard about the Arnold murder case. Of those, 79 percent said they believed Spell is guilty.
Spell's lawyers asked the judge to move the trial to Bozeman, while prosecutors argued the trial should remain in Sidney.
Spell, 24, and Lester Van Waters, Jr., 50, were charged with abducting Arnold while she was on a morning run, suffocating her and burying her body in a shallow grave outside Williston, North Dakota.
Shortly after filing murder and kidnapping charges, prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against both men.
In August, Waters cut a deal and pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide by accountability. In exchange for his plea and cooperation in the case against Spell, prosecutors agreed to dismiss a kidnapping charge and recommend he receive an 80-year prison term.
A sentencing hearing for Waters has not yet been scheduled.
Several other motions were heard Thursday, including requests by Spell's lawyers to suppress statements he made after his arrest and to dismiss the felony murder charge. Those issues won't be decided until the next hearing on November 4th.
At that hearing, Spell's defense attorneys will seek an order that the death penalty should not be considered in the case because Spell has an "intellectual disability."