News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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April 16, 2013

Judge denies change of venue for 1979 homicide trial

TERRE HAUTE — A  change of venue for a 1979 homicide case has been denied, and an April 29 trial date is still set for a 55-year-old Riley man.

Richard Boswell Jr. will again go on trial, three months after a mistrial was declared, for the 1979 strangulation murder of Kathy Jo Baker and the attempted murder of her then-2-year-old son, Ryan, in a rural area near their Riley home in southeastern Vigo County.

On Monday, Judge Michael Lewis in Vigo Superior Court 6 denied a motion for a change of venue filed by Boswell’s defense attorneys, who stated during a hearing that pretrial publicity and the recent mistrial in the case will make it difficult to find an impartial jury for the upcoming trial.

Defense attorney Michael Wright presented exhibits showing media coverage of the first trial in January. Those Tribune-Star reports include information about Boswell’s criminal history, which Wright said can prejudice the jury against his client. The trial was also reported by local broadcast media.

“The breadth of exposure is wide, it’s recent and it’s prejudicial,” Wright told Judge Lewis.

Defense attorney Luther Garcia also pointed out that some photos of Boswell show him shackled as he walks to court. The jury is not allowed to see Boswell brought to the courtroom in shackles.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rob Roberts argued that the potential jurors do not have to be ignorant of a case before they can be selected to serve on a jury, but they must be able to set aside pretrial opinions. Roberts said to receive a change of venue, the defense should prove prejudice or community bias, as well as inflammatory or distorted news accounts that misstate the facts of the cast.

Roberts pointed out another homicide trial from 2007 that had a lot of pretrial publicity, but because of some additional procedures by the court during jury selection, an impartial jury was able to be seated.

Wright countered that the recent trial, that ended in a mistrial, has refreshed the public’s memory of the 1979 unsolved murder. Boswell has been in the Vigo County Jail since October 2010 after an Indiana State Police investigation linked his DNA to a shirt worn by the victim on the day she was found. That arrest was well publicized.

A mistrial was declared in the January trial after a current inmate of the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City made a statement on the witness stand about Boswell’s criminal history, possibly leading the jury to think that Boswell might have killed someone else. In fact, Boswell has a prior conviction for criminal deviate conduct and criminal confinement. He was released from prison in 2006.

In denying the change of venue, Judge Lewis said jury selection will begin at 8 a.m. April 29 with 50 jurors to be called in. Another 50 jurors will be called in at 1 p.m. that afternoon.

And if needed, another 50 jurors will be called at 8:30 a.m. the following day. If the court is able to seat 12 jurors on that Monday, the Tuesday jury pool will be excused, the judge said.

Meanwhile, a final pretrial hearing is set for April 26 to hear any motions filed prior to the start of the trial.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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