Mark Wilson’s first-degree murder trial for the shooting death of housemate Pat Brown earlier this year has been moved from Challis to Rigby and is now scheduled to begin March 25 at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Earlier this month defense attorney Jim Archibald’s motion for a change of venue was granted by Judge Stevan Thompson. Archibald argued it would be difficult to select an impartial jury in Custer County, a small county where many jurors probably know both the defendant and the victim. He asked to move the trial to Idaho Falls. Thompson said it might be difficult to get courtroom space in Bonneville County, so he would recommend the trial take place in Jefferson County where he is based.
Prosecuting Attorney Justin Oleson argued against moving the trial. Oleson proposed that a jury of Jefferson County residents be selected and the trial take place in Challis.
Archibald said he’s tried half a dozen cases before the nice, hard-working, pleasant people of Challis and Custer County and means no insult to them in asking for a change of venue. However, with pretrial publicity and word of mouth, it would be hard to seat an impartial jury in a sparsely populated area, he said.
“It’s very hard for people to set aside their opinions or what they know,” said Archibald. “We ask them to, but we know it’s difficult.”
Wilson is willing to waive his right to a speedy trial if it is moved outside Challis, Archibald said.
Oleson disagreed. An impartial jury can be seated in Challis, he said. If you buy the argument that everyone knows everyone in a small community, the problem of jury selection would exist for every case tried here, he said. The whole idea behind our system of justice is trial by a jury of your peers, Oleson said and Wilson’s peers “are in Custer County.”
The county has three separate populations in Challis, Stanley and Mackay and they don’t all mix and don’t necessarily know each other, Oleson said. There has been pretrial publicity, but it’s been factual, not inflammatory, he said. Moving the trial outside Challis and housing witnesses, attorneys and court clerks would be a huge cost to Custer County and its taxpayers, Oleson said.
The defense motion was well taken, the judge said.
“I’m not impugning the integrity of Custer County citizens, but it’s too much to ask that they don’t know the victim or the defendant and that they set aside their opinions. I’m not willing to ask that of them. I understand the case is of big interest to the citizens of Custer County,” Thompson told Oleson.