Change of venue for murder trial denied

Published 7:48 pm Monday, May 4, 2015

A Circuit Court judge on Monday denied two motions by a defense attorney for one of three defendants in the September 2014 slaying of a downtown businessman.

Judge L. Wayne Farmer denied motions that would have removed the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office from prosecuting the case against Naomi Nichelle Lambert, who is accused in the death of Donald Carter, and would have moved the trial to another locality.

Lambert’s attorney, Greg Matthews, was arguing motions filed by Lambert’s former attorney, Ronilee Gomez. The motion said Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson and his office should be removed from the case because Ferguson is in the Suffolk Ruritan Club, while Carter had been a member of the Cypress Ruritan Club.

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“We deal with more of the appearance of propriety,” than with propriety, Matthews argued regarding the motion.

But prosecutor Jim Wiser noted, “Each of the Ruritan organizations is fully autonomous.

“I would argue there’s no appearance of impropriety,” he said.

Farmer quickly denied the motion.

The motion for a change of venue took a little longer to argue. Matthews argued that media coverage and the victim’s ties to the community have made it impossible to empanel a fair and impartial jury.

“There has been a fair amount of press coverage of this case,” Matthews noted. “News reporting can be inflammatory and prejudicial without trying to be so. (Jurors) are getting a lot of information outside of these four walls, and some of it’s hurtful.”

He referenced especially articles that noted Lambert’s criminal history and a Suffolk News-Herald article in which the family of one of the defendants — Katron Shawndell Walker, not Lambert — extended its condolences to the Carter family.

“I think a juror could easily infer, ‘Well, you don’t say you’re sorry for something unless you’re responsible for it,’” Matthews said.

He also pointed to Carter’s extensive ties to the community, including financial ties to people whose purchases of furniture his business financed.

“The ideal juror in Suffolk would be someone who … knows nothing about what’s going on in his community,” Matthews concluded. “Do you really want a juror that doesn’t keep themselves informed?”

But Wiser noted that even the recently concluded trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who set off two bombs near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon — killing three, injuring hundreds and setting off a manhunt that shut down the city — was held in federal court in Boston.

“It’s not the publicity; it’s the publicity plus the victim,” Matthews countered, noting that a change of venue for Tsarnaev would hardly have mattered given the heavy nationwide coverage.

Farmer denied the motion, saying he is confident an impartial jury can be seated.

“I am confident we can do that, and I am confident we can do that here in Suffolk,” he said.

The trial is set for July 13.