carter

Jason Carter speaks with his attorney, Christine Branstad, as they prepare to leave the courtroom Thursday.

KNOXVILLE - Jason Carter’s attorney argued Thursday that his murder trial should be moved from Marion County because of extensive publicity. District Judge Brad McCall took no action on the motion, but told attorneys for both sides to be ready when the trial begins next March.

Christine Branstad said media coverage of the civil trial that found Carter liable of the 2015 killing of his mother, Shirley, would make it impossible to find enough impartial jurors in the county. The trial should be moved, she said.

“The publicity has been statewide, has it not?” McCall asked her. 

Branstad made mention of a half-dozen members of the media in the room as she responded.

“There has been, certainly, some statewide publicity but not nearly as much as within this viewing area, as seen in the courtroom today that the cameras are from this viewing area,” she said. “The northern part of the state and the coasts of the state, as it were, did not have the same level of publicity.”

County residents also are likely to know witnesses, civil trial jurors, law enforcement officials and Carter family members, she said.

“The mere publicity, in and of itself, is not grounds to change venue,” Marion County Attorney Ed Bull countered. “This was not sensational reporting of a routine event, but routine reporting of a sensational event.”

Bull said Carter’s legal team had no sampling to indicate that 12 impartial jurors couldn’t be found among the county’s 33,000 residents. 

“We have the capacity to attempt to pick a jury in this county,” Bull said. 

“I guess what you’re suggesting, Mr. Bull, is, ‘Leave it here, we’ll give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work, we can change it then?’” McCall asked.

Bull responded that the law requires an attempt to find a jury in the county in which the crime has been committed, and that the case can only be moved when the defense has proven that a jury can’t be picked.

Bull said the only case he can think of that rivals the Carter case in terms of publicity is that of Mark Becker, who was convicted in the 2009 murder of Applington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas. A Butler County jury found Becker guilty of murder in 2010. On Wednesday, the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld that verdict, denying Becker’s argument that his attorney was ineffective for not moving the trial out of Butler County and that another attorney failed to present evidence of pre-trial publicity.

Branstad’s brief seeking the change listed extensive media coverage of Carter’s civil trial in six large Iowa cities and five surrounding states, as well as national and international coverage including Dateline NBC, Bull noted.

“Where do we believe we could go where a panel does not have some knowledge of the facts of the case?” Bull asked.

Local jurors would be especially aware of the December trial and its finding against Carter, Brandstad said. The national spotlight on the case will stick in the mind of county residents, she said.

“In every single news report, it’s saying ‘in Marion County, Marion County, Marion County.’ Certainly, I think that puts the focus on that story for people who live in Marion County,” Branstad said. “That puts a much greater tint on this case.”

McCall said he'll decide quickly where the trial will be held. Noting that both sides have requested that it start on March 4, the judge warned attorneys to be ready that Monday.

“You’ve got plenty of time to things done between now and then,” he said.

Carter’s wife, Shelly, and his father, Bill, were in the courtroom Thursday. Bill filed the civil charges against his son that led to the  Dec. 15 verdict. Jason was arrested two days later and charged with murdering his mother.

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at pfinan@journalexpress.net.

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