EAGLE, Colorado - A little more than a week after defense attorneys requested a change of venue for the Richard "Rossi" Moreau first-degree murder trial, District Court Judge R. Thomas Moorhead ruled Wednesday that the trial will now take place in March at the Clear Creek County courthouse.
The change of venue is the latest of many judicial delays since the Nov. 8, 2009 shooting in West Vail that left a Carbondale man, Dr. Gary Kitching, dead. Moreau is charged with eight felonies, including first degree murder, for crimes he allegedly committed that night.
The change of a trial venue request came on the second day of jury selection last week, although public defenders Dana Christiansen and Reed Owens alluded to such a request last January when they filed a motion requesting sanctions. The motion claimed that District Attorney Mark Hurlbert and Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Mallory strategically misled the press by including excerpts from mental health reports in their motion, knowing that the Vail Daily would pull quotes from those motions.
"The prosecution's attempt to influence potential jurors is sufficient that a change of venue may be necessary," the defense motion read.
The motion went on to claim that Hurlbert and Mallory were trying to taint the potential jury pool by including the excerpts, to which Hurlbert replied in a response that the excerpts were only used to prove the prosecution's basis for asking for specific records held by the defense.
"The defense has no evidence that either the undersigned or Mallory are engaging in this nefarious conspiracy with the Vail Daily to taint a potential Eagle County jury pool using statements from defense reports," Hurlbert wrote.
But Moreau's attorneys asked for the change of venue the morning of Dec. 5, citing an inability to find impartial prospective jurors "given the amount of public scrutiny and attention the case has received," Christiansen said.
The court questioned 23 jurors that morning and only five were initially asked to return Tuesday for more questioning.
Hurlbert argued that the case should be tried in Eagle County because this is where the crimes are alleged to have occurred, but Moorhead ruled in favor of the defense.
Mallory spoke to Kitching's widow, Lani Kitching, inside the court room just before Wednesday's hearing. He asked if a March trial date would be OK with her, and she said that it was. She arrived in court with a woman she identified as her neighbor, both of whom were accompanied by the victim's advocate who sat with them during the short hearing. Lani Kitching was at the Sandbar in West Vail the night her husband was shot and killed. She was hiding behind a couch about 10 feet away when her husband was shot in the chest, left thigh and arm, according to police reports. Video surveillance from the shooting shows Lani Kitching stand over her husband for a brief moment as police escort her away from the scene.
Lani Kitching, who wore sunglasses in the courtroom, met with Hurlbert and Mallory in private after Wednesday's hearing.
The Clear Creek County courthouse is in Georgetown, about 80 miles from the Eagle County courthouse and well out of the print circulation territory of the Vail Daily, which has covered the case closely. The new Clear Creek County venue is also part of the 5th Judicial District, the same judicial district as Eagle County.
A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Feb. 1, but that will take place in Eagle County because Moorhead said there's no point in transporting Moreau from the Eagle County jail, where he is being held without bail, to Clear Creek County for that hearing.
Hurlbert has said he wants to try the case as soon as possible. He told Lani Kitching in court Wednesday that he has one year left in his term as district attorney, but assured her he would try the case before that term is up.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.