Holt murder trial may move to another site in Houston County

bpurser@macon.comApril 1, 2013 

PERRY -- Macon Judicial Circuit Judge Tripp Self told attorneys Monday he’s not likely to change the venue before jury selection begins in the trial of a former state probation officer accused of killing his girlfriend.

But Self is considering possibly moving the trial to a different location in Houston County as also requested by the defense because both the victim and accused worked in the Houston County Courthouse where the trial is scheduled to begin April 29.

Former state probation officer Russell Holt, 29, is accused of fatally shooting Jessica Nicole Wolfe, 27, in his home in March 2012. Wolfe was a legal assistant for the Houston County District Attorney’s Office. Houston County judges and prosecutors recused themselves.

During the pre-trial hearing, Franklin J. Hogue, a Macon attorney representing Holt, argued first for a change of venue because of pre-trial publicity and then for a change of location if the trial is not moved outside of Houston County. The pre-trial publicity was not limited to newspapers, television and radio coverage but also to social media and comments shared through Facebook.

Self said he was “very hesitant to jump out of the box and say I don’t think we can get a fair jury.”

However, should pre-trial publicity become an issue during jury selection, then a change of venue may be considered, Self said.

Hogue next argued for moving the trial within Houston County to another facility such as State Court in Warner Robins.

Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Peter J. Skandalakis, who is prosecuting the case, told the judge that he was not familiar with Houston County facilities and would not want to risk a mistrial. But he said he would leave whether to move to another location within the county to the judge’s discretion.

After a short recess, Skandalakis told the judge the State Court facility is smaller, and the court calendar is full the week of April 29.

Self took the matter under advisement. He is expected to review defense exhibits documenting the pre-trial publicity before issuing a ruling.

Also, the prosecution and defense came to an agreement that Holt’s statements to police during an interrogation are not admissible because Holt had requested an attorney, but one was not provided and the interrogation continued.

But videotaped statements Holt made to himself in the interrogation room outside of the detective’s presence are a point of contention between the prosecution and defense.

Skandalakis argued the court has found no expectation of privacy in a police interrogation room.

But Hogue argued this case is different because Holt’s statement to himself was made during a break in an improper interrogation when the detective stepped out of the room.

Hogue used the analogy of a tree that has been poisoned and the prosecution wanting to pick fruit from the tree when the fruit itself also has been poisoned. The tree was the interrogation and the fruit was Holt’s statement to himself.

But Self questioned whether Holt’s statement to himself was constitutionally protected because it was not made in response to being interrogated by police.

Self said he would accept additional arguments from attorneys on that issue through Friday.

Also, Self denied another motion made by Hogue that challenged the constitutionality of a malice murder charge based on what Hogue characterized as a vague phrase defining such a killing as one done with an “abandoned and malignant heart.”

During the early morning hours of March 18, 2012, police say Wolfe sent fearful text messages saying that her boyfriend, Holt, wanted to choke her and had pushed her into a wall inside his Ledford Way home.

Within an hour of the last text message, a neighbor found a sobbing Holt in the front yard and discovered Wolfe lying on the kitchen floor where she’d been shot in the chest with what police believe was Holt’s service revolver, a .40 caliber Glock pistol, according to testimony in a 2012 court hearing. Holt was fired from his job as a state probation officer after he was charged with murder in Wolfe’s death.

Holt told police he and Wolfe had come in through the garage after drinking at bars with friends, and he was struck in the head and knocked unconscious by an intruder, according to court testimony. Holt next awoke in the front lawn of the residence.

Holt, who is free on bond, has pleaded not guilty to charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during a crime.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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