Defendant requests change of venue in manslaughter case

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Defense attorney Kristopher Hammond believes the pool of potential jurors in Moffat County may have been biased by media coverage of the June 11 killing for which Luree Highpines Nelums, 44, is accused.

Pretrial publicity is why the Steamboat Springs lawyer wants to move the case to Rio Blanco County. The publicity, Hammond said, will prevent his client from having a fair trial.

"Local residents are prejudiced against the defendant as a result of pretrial publicity and rumors; therefore, would not be able to afford the defendant a fair and impartial trial," Hammond stated in his motion for change of venue.

Nelums was charged with manslaughter after her husband, Gordon Ray Nelums, 48, was found in a room of the Colorado Inn motel in Craig with a stab wound to the femoral artery of his left thigh. Nelums is being held in Moffat County Jail on $50,0000 bond awaiting her Feb. 13 trial date.

Hammond, a public defender who also works for Oliphant, Hammond and O'Hara law firm, filed a motion Nov. 22 to change the venue of the trial and recommended the case be heard in Rio Blanco County because it is close, but not close enough that residents there are aware of the case. A hearing on the motion will be held at 9 a.m. Monday.

The decision to grant a change of venue is up to 14th Judicial District Judge Joel Thompson, who is hearing the case.

Six stories have been published in the Craig Daily Press and Steamboat Today concerning the murder. Hammond believes those stories biased the juror pool in both Moffat and Routt counties.

"This prevents my client from having a fair trial," Hammond said. "Nobody wants a situation where 70 or 80 or 90 percent of jurors say 'Oh yeah, I've read about this in the paper.' They may have already formed an opinion."

According to research on change of venue requests available in the court file, if a judge decides not to change venue because of pretrial publicity, the supreme court will not overturn his ruling unless the defendant can demonstrate publicity had an actual, adverse effect on the jury. It is sufficient, the research states, if jurors say they can lay aside information received through pretrial publicity.

Deputy District Attorney David Waite is prosecuting the case and said he plans to oppose the motion to change venue.

Hammond filed the motion because he believes he has the legal standing to make the request, but is unsure of what the outcome will be.

"Any time you go to court, there's a 50 percent chance you're going to win and a 50 percent chance you're going to lose," he said.

On Monday, Thompson will also hear arguments about a defense motion to suppress some of the evidence gathered during the investigation. Hammond contends some evidence was gathered illegally and is inadmissible.

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