Wednesday, September 26, 2001
Steamboat Springs The murder trial of Thomas Lee Johnson will be moved to Larimer County because extensive media coverage in Routt County would make it difficult to select a fair jury here, a judge ruled Wednesday.
"It would be extremely difficult, but not impossible, to empanel a fair and impartial jury in Routt County," said Justice Joseph P. Quinn "But these circumstances require a change of venue."
It is the second time in seven years a Steamboat Springs murder trial has been moved. In 1995, Jill Coit and Michael Backus were tried and convicted in Hot Sulphur Springs for the murder of Gerald Boggs in Steamboat Springs.
Johnson is accused of stabbing 31-year-old Lori Bases to death in her Steamboat Boulevard apartment in May 2000. He faces charges of first-degree murder and criminal trespass and mischief.
The trial is scheduled to start Oct. 29 at the Larimer County Justice Center in Fort Collins. Quinn ordered the Routt County Sheriff's Office to transport Johnson to Larimer County by Oct. 25.
Johnson's court-appointed attorney, William Schurman, had argued the media coverage made it impossible for his client to get a fair trial in Routt County and was pleased with Quinn's ruling.
Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James argued against the change of venue, claiming Bases' family would be inconvenienced, as well as witnesses, the majority of whom live in Routt County.
Quinn, who lives in Denver, did not elaborate on why he picked Larimer County for the trial but said the "county has not been exposed to the pretrial media publicity that has taken place in this case."
A former Colorado Supreme Court Justice, Quinn was assigned to the case in August after 14th Judicial District Judge Joel S. Thompson disqualified himself.
Quinn based his ruling on the amount of local newspaper and radio reports, along with the jury pool that exists in Routt County.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today has published 43 articles on the case since Bases' death was discovered.
"There has been extensive newspaper publicity in this case," Quinn said. "Many of these have been lead or close to lead articles. This case has generated continued and significant interest in the community."
Quinn also said local radio coverage of the case is "extensive." Local radio stations have broadcast more than 35 reports on the case.
Routt County has a jury pool of about 16,800 residents.
In this case, about 500 residents would be called for jury selection, Quinn said. Court officials said the county's rate of residents responding to jury duty is about 30 to 35 percent.
If this case received that response from residents, lawyers would have to choose from a jury pool of 150 to 175 people, Quinn said.
In his ruling, Quinn recognized moving the trial to Larimer County will be an inconvenience, but that was not enough of a reason to keep the trial in Steamboat Springs.
"The right to a fair and impartial jury cannot be sacrificed because of inconvenience," Quinn said.