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United States v. Matusiewicz

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 29, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID THOMAS MATUSIEWICZ, LENORE MATUSIEWICZ, and AMY GONZALEZ Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On August 6, 2013, David Thomas Matusiewicz, Lenore Matusiewicz, and Amy Gonzalez were indicted on four counts of stalking. (D.I. 2; D.I. 68 at 3.) Their trials are scheduled for October 9, 2013. (D.I. 46.) Presently before the court are David Thomas Matusiewicz's Motion for Transfer ofVenue Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 21(a), (D.I. 48), and Lenore Matusiewicz's Motion to Join in Defendant David Matusiewicz's Motion for Transfer of Venue Pursuant to Rule 7(f) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, (D.I. 61).[1] For the reasons that follow, the court will grant Lenore Matusiewicz's Motion to Join in Defendant David Matusiewicz's Motion for Transfer of Venue, but deny David Thomas Matusiewicz's Motion for Transfer of Venue.

II. BACKGROUND

This case arises from the shooting deaths of Christine Belford and Laura Mulford in the lobby of the New Castle County Courthouse on February 11, 2013. (D.I. 2; D.I. 48 at 2; D.I. 68 at 3.) Thomas Matusiewicz, David Thomas Matusiewicz's father, shot and killed the two women before taking his own life. (D.I. 48 at 2; D.I. 68 at 3.) Subsequently, an investigation revealed that prior to the shootings, Ms. Belford had been locked in a particularly acrimonious and longstanding dispute with her former husband, David Thomas Matusiewicz, over custody of their three children. (D.I. 68 at 3.)

Immediately after the shootings, there was heavy media coverage as news outlets investigated and publicized the events. (D.I. 48, passim. ) Both the Attorney General and the Mayor of Wilmington released public statements. (D.I. 48 at 3.) On August 6, 2013, the Defendants were indicted on four counts of stalking.[2] (D.I. 2; D.I. 68 at 3.) The Indictment alleges that between December 2009 and February 11, 2013, the Defendants conducted a campaign of intimidation against Ms. Belford in which they stalked her using the internet, falsely accused her of sexually and physically abusing her children, directed others to spy on both her and her children, and left both her and her children in constant fear of death or serious injury. (D.I. 2; D.I. 68 at 4.) Although the news coverage has diminished over time, each of the proceedings in this case has received varying degrees of coverage. (D.I. 48, passim. )

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Under the Sixth Amendment, criminal defendants have the right to trial by an impartial Jury. In accordance with this guarantee, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 21 (a) provides that "[u]pon the defendant's motion, the court must transfer the proceeding against that defendant to another district if the court is satisfied that so great a prejudice against the defendant exists in the transferring district that the defendant cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial there." Transfer of venue is not mandatory, however, and is instead at the court's sound discretion. See Martin v. Warden, Huntington State Corr. Inst., 653 F.2d 799, 804 (3d Cir. 1981).

A court may presume prejudice sufficient to warrant a change of venue "[w ]here media or other community reaction to a crime or a defendant engenders an atmosphere so hostile and pervasive as to preclude a rational trial process[.]" Rock v. Zimmerman, 959 F.2d 1237, 1252 (3d Cir. 1992). "The community and media reaction, however, must have been so hostile and pervasive as to make it apparent that even the most careful voir dire process would be unable to assure an impartial jury." Id. It is rare that adverse pretrial publicity will establish a presumption of prejudice. See Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358, 380 (2010) ("A presumption of prejudice, our decisions indicate, attends only the extreme case."); Zimmerman, 959 F.2d at 1252; United States v. De Peri, 778 F.2d 963, 972 (3d Cir. 1985). Factors that the court should consider in determining whether media coverage presumptively deprives the defendant of due process include: the size and characteristics of the community in which the crime occurred; the content of the coverage; the timing of the coverage; and the existence of media interference with court proceedings. See Skilling, 561 U.S. at 382-385.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Size and Characteristics of the Community

The size and characteristics of the community in which the crime occurred may mitigate or increase the risk of prejudice to the defendants. See, e.g., Skilling, 561 U.S. at 382. The Defendants argue that they cannot receive a fair and impartial trial in the District of Delaware because media coverage of the shootings reached "all age groups and socioeconomic classes" in Delaware and was "provided through all known media formats." (D.I. 49 at ¶ 46.) In addition, they argue that "Delaware is a small state with a population of approximately 917, 000. Thus, it is highly likely that potential jurors may know a victim or courthouse employee, someone who does, or may have been impacted by the closing of schools and streets on the day of the shooting." ( Id. at ¶ 48.) The government argues in response that Delaware's jury pool of 917, 092 is diverse and that the Defendants do not provide any verifiable statistics or case law to support their claim that this pool is too small for the court to be able to select an impartial jury. (D.I. 68 at 8.) The government also argues that the voir dire process would easily reveal which jurors have been impacted by the shootings in the way that the Defendants describe. ( Id. ) For the following reasons, the court concludes that the government has the right of this and that the size and characteristics of the community weigh against transferring the Defendants' cases.

As an initial matter, even if, as the Defendants suggest, virtually everyone in Delaware has been exposed to and recalls media coverage of the courthouse shootings, this alone in itself is insufficient to establish that the Defendants cannot receive a fair trial here. See, e.g., Skilling, 561 U.S. at 381 ("Prominence does not necessarily produce prejudice and juror impartiality, we have reiterated, does not require ignorance."); United States v. De Peri, 778 F.2d 963, 972 (3d Cir. 1985) ("The mere fact that community members are cognizant of the crimes and of the defendants' identities does not, by itself, render the trial constitutionally unfair.") In addition, while, as the Defendants have pointed out, (D.I. 71 at 6), many cases in which courts have found the risk of prejudice mitigated by the size of the jury pool have indeed involved millions of potential jurors, there is no particular size required of the jury pool. See, e.g., Gentile v. State Bar of Nev., 500 U.S. 1030, 1044 (1991) (Concluding that that a population in excess of 600, 000 persons was sufficient to minimize the likelihood of prejudice.)

Beyond the size of the jury pool, one of the characteristics that a court may consider is the familiarity of the population with serious crimes. See Mu'Min v. Virginia, 500 U.S. 415, 429 (1991) (Concluding that the potential for prejudice was mitigated partly by the fact that "hundreds of murders are committed each year" in Washington D.C.) Considering the unfortunate fact that Delaware's rate of violent crimes has long placed it among the top 10 most dangerous states, the population of Delaware can hardly be argued to consist entirely of easily scandalized naïfs. See, e.g., Charley Blaine & Michael B. Sauter, The Most Dangerous States in America, 24/7 Wall St, Oct. 4, 2013, http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/10/04/the-most-dangerous-states-in-america/2/ (Ranking Delaware sixth among all states by violent crime rate from 2012 to 2013 based on data collected by the FBI.); United States Census Bureau, State Rankings-Statistical Abstract of the United States Violent Crime Rate, 2006, http://www.census.gov/statab/ranks/rank21.html (Ranking Delaware seventh among all states by violent crime rate from 2005 to 2006 based data collected by the FBI.) No ...


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