Collins’ Defense Softening On 'Bad Press ’ Line?
By William B. Treml
(News Police Reporter)
Perhaps it was an oversight.
Or it could be a subtle shift in strategy.
Whatever the case, Joseph W. Louisell, chief defense counsel for accused slayer John Norman Collins, may be through using the “bad press’' approach as a leading argument in attempts to have the murder trial shifted to another county.
Since they entered the case last December, Louisell and his associate, Neil H. Fink, have hammered away at the volume and nature of the press coverage of their client as the chief reason for granting a change of venue in the case. Fink has four times mentioned stories which appeared in The Ann Arbor News when questioning prospective jurors in the past month and the “Collins file” is bulging with reproductions of newspaper stories from four papers.
Louisell and Fink say the stories are prejudicial to their client and influence the entire populace of Washtenaw County.
Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. when the first members of a fifth panel of prospective jurors are called by Circuit Court Judge John W. Conlin, the defense attorneys may resume their legal complaint about the “bad press.” But Monday when Judge Conlin denied for the fourth time a change of venue motion, Louisell, in his presentation to- the bench, never mentioned press coverage of his client.
Instead, the veteran defense counsel concentrated on the “feeling in this community” and repeated an earlier assertion by Fink that it is impossible to seat a fair-minded jury in a community which has been “victimized.” But missing in his presentation was specific mention of media coverage of his client’s case.
The almost imperceptible change in the defense argument could mean that Louisell, with only eight peremptory challenges left, has decided his lone hope of persuading Judge Conlin to change the trial site is to show a permeating “feeling” against Collins among prospective jurors being called.
Moving away from the continuing cry against stories published about the accused could bring a more pronounced concentration on the “feeling” factor among the populace.
In addition to failing to specifically mention newspapers in his oral argument before Judge Conlin on Monday, Louisell, in his written renewal motion for a change of venue, touched only on what he called a “pattern of deep and bitter prejudice” against Collins. He did not spell out how such a pattern was formed.
Tomorrow’s half-day session of jury-drawing is expected to be preliminary In nature with new prospective jurors scheduled to spend much of their time listening to general instructions on jury, duty from Judge Conlin or Judge William F. Ager. The session is necessary to legally maintain the status of the new 300-person panel as belonging to the May-June term of court.
Fink, who began a non-jury murder case in Detroit on Monday, is not expected to attend tomorrow’s session.
While the panel “call” is for 300 persons, it is expected less than half that number will finally enter the County Building for questioning of any sort. Many, after reporting on the first day, will be excused because of personal commitments or job responsibilities. One observer says a final number of 50 to 76 will be considered a “good draw.”
Prosecutor William Delhey is expected to continue to “pass” his opportunities for peremptory challenges of jurors already seated and maintain an advantage over Louisell in the peremptory challenge area. The prosecutor still has nine such challenges; the defense eight.
Judge Conlin has acknowledged that if Louisell runs out of peremptory challenges and is still dissatisfied with the seated jury he could appeal the jury as seated to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Such a move would temporarily halt the jury-drawing and bring a delay of as much as two weeks while the appeals court decided the merits of the defense case.
Before the local jury-drawing started on June 2 Louisell lost a motion made in the Court of Appeals for a change of the trial Site. At that time the high court denied the motion in one brief sentence in which it said the move for a change was “premature at this time.’
If Louisell files another motion with the Court of Appeals he will cite the 164 prospective jurors turned aside in four weeks of examination as evidence that a change of venue move is now no longer “premature.”