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Stroupe trial delayed until next year

A Superior Court judge on Tuesday denied a request by murder defendant Phillip Michael Stroupe II to move his trial out of Henderson County but granted his attorneys' motion to delay the trial from July until next year. 

Lawyers for Stroupe argued that excessive pre-trial publicity makes it all but impossible for Stroupe to receive a fair trial locally.  District Attorney Greg Newman responded by telling the court that moving the trial is premature and that he believes we can seat an impartial jury in this case.  “There is no requirement that prospective jurors come to court uninformed about the things taking place in their community,”  said Mr. Newman. “The question is whether they can set aside the things they have read, seen, or heard about the case and base a decision of guilt or innocence on the evidence presented in the trial.  Some will be able to do that while others may not.  We will not know, however, until we bring in the prospective jurors into court and ask them these questions."

The defense lawyers offered results from a telephone poll of 407 Henderson County residents to measure knowledge of the case facts.  Only 17 percent of persons polled knew anything about the case.  Sixty-one percent knew nothing about the case. 

In an affidavit in support of his motion to move the trail from Henderson County and delays its start, Public Defender Paul B. Welch III cited "the sheer geographic and durational scope of the criminal offenses alleged ... the volume and intensity of pretrail publicity ... and the unusual dispatch with which the matter has reached a trial calendar." The manhunt for Stroupe and the trail of crime the state alleges covered "seven counties in two states over a period of more than a week at the height of the summer tourism season in western North Carolina," Welch said. "Vitrually every law enforcement agency with territorial jurisdiction in western North Carolina was involved in the manhunt which ultimately resulted in the capture of Mr. Stroupe. At leaast four other individuals have been charged with being accessories after the fact to his alleged crimes and placed in pretrial detention based on evidence of actual guilt which is less than overwhelming."

Holding the trial in the District 29B would prejudice Stroupe's right "to be tried by a jury whose verdict is uninfluenced by the local notoriety of his alleged crimes or the intensely prejudicial pretrial publicity about them," Welch argued. Scheduling a trial less than a year after the crimes gives the defense inadequate time to prepare, he added. "Unless these problems are relieved by judicial action, the trial is virtually certain to be unfair, and counsel is likewise virtually certain to be constitutionally ineffective," he said.

Judge Robert Bell of Charlotte denied the motion to move the trial but granted a defense motion to delay the trial from July 23 to Jan. 28 or later. Defense lawyers argued for additional time of anywhere from 18-24 months, saying they needed more time to prepare and that the district attorney is moving too fast for a capital murder case.  The judge allowed the continuance and directed the district attorney to reschedule the trial for Jan. 28 or later. Newman said he would announce a new trial date in the next few days.