"Publicity" May Force Venue Change Of Clark Murder Trial

WINCHESTER, KY -- Extensive publicity may force the murder trial of Patrick and Joy Watkins into another county later this summer, reports The Winchester Sun in its Sunday edition.

The Winchester couple was scheduled to be tried Monday for the March 2007 death of Patrick's 10-year-old daughter, Michaela Watkins. The Watkinses' attorneys argued for the change of venue, based on publicity and the nature of the allegations, among other reasons.

Circuit Judge William T. Jennings indicated Thursday afternoon he would like to move the trial to another county, preferably Madison County, after pretrial publicity and a rally on the courthouse steps a couple weeks ago for child abuse awareness, reports the Winchester Sun.

Michaela Watkins was one of the children mentioned prominently during the rally. The ribbons and other decorations from the rally remain in front of the courthouse. The rally was covered by multiple newspapers and television stations, the Sun reports.

"I think it will be virtually impossible to get an impartial jury who were not affected by that," Jennings said. Jennings continued the trial indefinitely and scheduled another hearing May 15 to rule on the change of venue motions.

"It could very well be that two weeks down the road with no extra front page publicity... this could have cooled down," Jennings said, adding he preferred not to move trials. Circumstances, though, may force the change in this case, reports the Sun.

"I'm leaning toward a change of venue," Jennings said. "My reaction is Madison County would not present a problem."

Patrick Watkins' attorney, Lida Baharestan, argued other reasons for moving the case, including questions about where Michaela Watkins actually died and that the facts of the case would be prejudicial to her client. Baharestan said she believed Michaela Watkins died either in Menifee County or Powell County while on a trip to Red River Gorge with her parents the day before, the newspaper reports.

Prosecutors said there is evidence to the contrary.

"We believe the beating and burning of this child occurred in Clark County," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Charles Johnson said. "It is our strong contention we should seat a jury in Clark County." Jennings dismissed both, saying neither was a sufficient reason to transfer a case elsewhere, the newspaper reports.

"I think anyone looking at this case would say it's a heinous crime, given the relationship of the defendants and the victim," Jennings said.

Baharestan declined to comment following Thursday's hearing. The continuance in the trial will also allow defense attorneys time to read through approximately 230 pages of interviews recently turned over. Johnson said the documents were turned over shortly after he received them, reports the Sun.

Patrick and Joy Watkins were indicted in May 2007, two months after Michaela was found dead in their Winchester apartment. An autopsy showed Michaela died from blunt force trauma, though burns were listed as a contributing factor.

The Watkinses told police they made Michaela take a bath after she urinated on herself, then she fell twice and hit her head while getting out of the tub. For the rest of the night, they said, she seemed fine, but was fading in and out of consciousness the following day on a trip to Red River Gorge. After returning home, they said, she fell down the stairs. Police said Michaela's injuries were not consistent with the Watkinses' story, reports The Winchester Sun.

CopyrightThe Winchester Sun 2008

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