Teague site still Washita, for time being
CORDELL – An attempt will be made to hold the murder trial of 15-year-old Blaize Teague in Washita County, District Judge Doug Haught decreed here Friday morning.
However, if it becomes obvious a fair and impartial jury cannot be seated in the Cordell courthouse, Haught said he will have a plan in place so the trial can be moved to Beckham County. Its courthouse is at Sayre.
Haught spoke at the end of an hour-and-a-half motion hearing here Friday. Teague’s attorneys, Michael and Rebecca Beason of Altus, previously had filed a motion for a change of venue outside Washita County, contending their client could not receive a fair trial here because of excessive publicity.
“I’m going to overrule the motion at this time and will have a plan available so the trial can be continued without interruption,” said Judge Haught. He added that the alternative site would be Beckham County.
Actually, the change of venue discussion consumed only about 20 minutes of Friday’s hour-and-a-half hearing, but it came at the end of detailed legal mumbo-jumbo on a couple of other motions and climaxed things.
Teague was 14 and living with his parents at Corn when he allegedly broke into the Cordell residence of Tammi Thomas about 1 a.m. on July 20, 2017, and fatally shot her. He is charged with first-degree murder; shooting with intent to kill in the wounding of her son, Christian Thomas, who was a former friend and classmate of his; and first-degree burglary.
District Attorney Angela Marsee took the lead Friday in arguing against a change of venue.
“We do not believe a fair and impartial trial in this county is improbable,” she said. “Pretrial publicity alone does not warrant a change of venue.”
She reminded Judge Haught that he had presided over the 2015 murder trial of Ronnie Denny in the same Washita County Courthouse where this one is scheduled. She said it had seven years of pretrial publicity, yet a fair and impartial jury had been selected.
Mrs. Marsee also said there are 13 communities within Washita County plus the unincorporated areas where numerous citizens live. She said the defense, in requesting a change of venue, had submitted affidavits from five residents of Sentinel who didn’t think Teague could get a fair trial in their county, plus two from Cordell residents and one from Rocky. She named several other towns from which there were no affidavits.
Marsee said if the trial gets into jury selection and it’s apparent an unbiased jury can’t be selected, a change of venue could be considered at that time.
“The crimes occurred here, and the trial should be held here,” she concluded.
“I’m not required to go into each community to get affidavits,” retorted Michael Beason, who’s taken the lead for the defense throughout proceedings up to this point. He said he’s required by law to get affidavits from only three people to support a change-of-venue request and he got more than that.
Then he added, “Washita County has no rights in this case. He does.”
“He” was a reference of course to his client, the defendant.
Beason said the county also has had people on social media who not only “have already convicted Blaize” but have even expressed “what type of punishment he should get.”
He said he doesn’t think the people of Washita County are any better or any worse than those in other counties but he does believe many “have already made up their minds.”
In his opinion, he said it would be better to be cautious and move the trial elsewhere.
Judge Haught of course had the final say. He told Beason he would at this time overrule his motion. At the same time he reminded both sides that it could be moved as late as the jury selection process if it becomes necessary.
“I will have another jury available in Beckham County,” he said, “if it becomes obvious a fair and impartial jury cannot be seated in Washita County.”
After his ruling Mrs. Marsee reminded him that if there’s an issue regarding the defendant’s competency, arrangements need to be made for an examination soon, since the trial is scheduled to start Nov. 6 and the court dates for the lawyers on both sides as well as the judge are filling up quickly.
Beason said he doesn’t see a competency issue “at this time.”
But he also said he couldn’t speak for his client, that it would be up to Teague’s parents to request an examination if one is needed.
Haught said if there are any medical reports of any kind that anyone wishes him to consider, he wants to see them within two weeks. Teague’s mother was present in the audience, so she was asked if her son had had any competency examinations. She said not yet.
The judge then explained to her that competency includes any issues which might prevent her son from assisting at his trial and repeated that he needed the reports before the deadline he had set of only two weeks away.
Mrs. Marsee emphasized that she wasn’t questioning Teague’s competency herself. But she said it’s always an issue and added, “We have made strides in that area, especially with younger defendants. I brought it up so the court would be aware of it.”