New motions filed in murder case

Published 9:51 pm Monday, February 2, 2015

A second request for a change of venue is one of two new motions filed last month in the case of slain local businessman Donald Carter.

After the first such motion was filed in late December for Katron Walker, the second was filed last month for a co-accused, Naomi Lambert.

Her attorney, Ronilee Gomez, says in a court filing that prejudicial and inaccurate news reports, racist and inflammatory reader comments and the position Carter held in the community would cost Lambert a fair trial in Suffolk.

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Gomez argued no testimony or evidence presented in the murder case so far suggests her client used Carter’s phone to set up the alleged fatal robbery. A commonwealth witness has testified Lambert made a phone call after Carter took the two of them and a third female back to his business premises, where he offered to pay for sex.

Walker and the third accused, Leon Hayes, waited in the bushes outside to rob Carter, but the robbery went wrong and the 82-year-old was shot, according to testimony.

“There was similarly no evidence that Lambert told (the witness) that Carter was about to be robbed,” Gomez stated.

The filing cites former Suffolk mayor Andy Damiani’s reported comments following the Sept. 22 slaying on Carter’s standing and influence in the community, including, “There’s hardly a household in Suffolk that doesn’t have a piece of furniture from Carter’s.”

Gomez says her client “will have a difficult time obtaining a fair trial where the juror pool is tainted as a result of these extensive emotional ties to the victim and the community.”

“An effort to seat an impartial jury in Suffolk will be fruitless,” she later states.

Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney James Wiser argues in an opposition brief, “The relevant question is not whether prospective jurors have heard something about the case, but whether they are unable to set aside preconceived notions.”

Prosecutors also take issue with Gomez’s claims that online news reports — copies of which she filed in support of her motion — are untrue: “Since the trial has not been completed, the finder of fact has not yet had a chance to determine which facts are indeed accurate.”

Meanwhile, Gomez has also called for a special prosecutor, because Carter and Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson were both members of Ruritan clubs in the Holland district at the time of the alleged offenses.

“Further involvement in this case by the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney presents both an actual conflict of interest and an appearance of impropriety to such an extent that (the) defendant cannot be guaranteed a fair trial and prosecution,” according to Gomez.

In another opposition brief, prosecutors say Carter and Ferguson were members of two different Ruritan organizations, and any administrative positions Ferguson had in the organization were held more than a decade ago.

“Any connection between (Carter) and the Commonwealth’s Attorney are too remote to disqualify the Commonwealth’s Attorney, much less the entire Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, from representing the commonwealth in the above case,” according to the brief.

Lambert’s trial is scheduled to begin March 16 after she pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and four other charges.

Walker, for whom a mental evaluation has been ordered before any plea was entered, and Hayes, scheduled for arraignment Feb. 20, both face first-degree murder and five other charges.

Suffolk Circuit Court Chief Judge Carl Edward Eason Jr. has said he will await the results of Walker’s evaluation before considering his change of venue or any other requests.