Daniel Caluo Vasquez, 31, and Jario Jesus Canales-Garcia, 23, were charged last year with the first-degree murder of Wing Chiu Li, 57, whose sons operate Peking Buffet and Fusion Cuisine.
Vasquez's attorney, Robert Marlow, on Wednesday told Judge Robert Crigler that news coverage of the case by the Marshall County Tribune would make it difficult to select a jury that hadn't heard of Li's murder or know something about the case.
Canales-Garcia was sentenced to life plus 20 years in a state penitentiary by Crigler early this month. A Marshall County jury convicted Canales-Garcia in mid-May on charges of first degree murder as well as felony murder, a second homicide charge substantiated by burglary of the restaurant Li was building.
Canales-Garcia and Vasquez went to the restaurant being developed by the Li family near Wal-Mart to collect a debt on June 26, 2006, prosecutors told Canales-Garcia's jury in May. Vasquez allegedly laid in wait with Canales-Garcia, participated in a fight that resulted in Li's death and stole Li's van for their escape to Nashville and then on to Georgia and Minnesota.
The two were extradited on separate assault charges and indicted in the murder case by the grand jury here last fall.
Last month, the restaurant, Fusion Cuisine, opened several months later than planned, but it has been developing a clientele in the strip mall space that Li had been finishing. Li was a carpenter who also ran a Chinese restaurant in Fayetteville. He was helping his sons expand the family business here.
Noting the public's increased awareness of the Li family's loss, Marlow told Judge Crigler why he believed a jury should be selected from another part of the 17th Judicial District.
"In that the trial is less than 45 days away," Marlow began, "it would behoove us to address that issue now."
He did not ask that the trial be moved from Lewisburg.
"There is no substantiating affidavit" with the defense request to have the jury selected somewhere other than Marshall County, District Attorney Chuck Crawford told Crigler. "The state is opposed to the motion."
Crigler agreed some reasons should be submitted to indicate a level of "excitement" among the public regarding the case, and noted judges have the authority to relocate some portion or all of a trial without a request.
Given that, the judge accepted Marlow's request to mean that if the court relocated jury selection, then the defense wouldn't object.
Crigler then announced he would designate another location for jury selection "not because there's undue excitement, but because there was another trial."
Other issues were considered by Crigler. One was the difficulty of finding a jury that's not aware of the case. Another is time.
While it's been acknowledged in other cases that a fair trial could be held with jurors who diligently set aside pre-conceived notions, jury selection could be time consuming.
Since the judicial district includes Marshall, Bedford, Lincoln and Moore counties, Crigler noted it made sense for a change to the next nearest county where the cause for a change in venue does not exist.
However, a murder case with three defendants is expected to consume significant time in Bedford County, Crigler said, concluding he'd have the jury selected in Lincoln County for Vasquez's trial in Lewisburg.
Marlow replied that he agreed with the judge's decision against selecting a jury in Shelbyville where he represents the widow of a slain car salesman whose death is attributed by prosecutors to the widow, another woman and a teenage boy.
"But of the four counties in this district, Lincoln and Bedford counties have the greatest concentration and the most problems with immigration and illegal aliens," Marlow said, noting the district attorney lives in Lincoln County.
Furthermore, the stabbing death victim and his family have had a restaurant in Fayetteville, Marlow said.
Marlow advocated selecting Vasquez's jury in Metropolitan Lynchburg-Moore County.
A problem with selecting the jury from Moore County is that its population is small and potential jurors might raise a "hardship issue" for their service, Crigler noted.
While jury selection is to be at the end of one week, it's expected that the rest of the trial will take four days after opening arguments on the following Monday.
Jurors would be asked to "adapt your life for four days," Crigler said.
Marlow asked if Crigler would allow use of a questionnaire so he and prosecutors could make determinations quickly on jurors. Crigler said that could be done out loud.
Furthermore, jurors could be addressed as a group to be advised of what's at stake, the judge said. They could be told some of the general facts of the case and the issues of hardships for reasons such as personal health could be considered as well as those regarding pretrial publicity.
Having ruled on the issue of where the jury would be selected and where the case would be argued, Crigler confirmed the previously announced schedule. Jury selection is to start at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 20. Opening statements are to be heard on the morning of Sept. 24