By James Beaty
An attorney for the former coordinator of District 18 Drug Court accused of embezzling drug court funds and property is seeking a change of venue for an upcoming trial on the charges.
Shannon McMurray, the Tulsa attorney representing Angela Marcum, is suggesting the trial be held in Tulsa instead of McAlester.
In court filings in the case, McMurray cites 10 reasons why she believes the court should grant a change of venue, contending Marcum can’t receive a fair trail in Pittsburg County.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General Megan Tilly, who is also the new chief of the Attorney General’s Multicounty Grand Jury Unit, said the attorney general’s office is working on a response to the motion filed by McMurray.
“We are opposing the change of venue, “ Tilly said.
“We believe the citizens of Pittsburg County should have the opportunity to judge this defendant and we and believe Ms. Marcum can receive a fair trial in Pittsburg County.”
Tilly also said there’s a presumption a defendant can receive a fair trial in the county in which the defendant is charged and the burden is on the party seeking the transfer.
Okmulgee County District Judge Kenneth Adair will make a ruling on the motion, with a hearing currently set for Aug. 15 at the Pittsburg County Courthouse about the change of venue and other motions in the case.
Judge Adair was appointed to preside over the case after judges in Pittsburg County recused from handling it.
In addition to the embezzlement charges, Marcum has also been charged with conspiracy. She is accused of embezzling money paid in the form of fees and other costs paid by District 18 Drug Court participants, who had an opportunity to avoid prison or other jail time upon successful completion of the program.
District 18 Drug Court covers Pittsburg and McIntosh counties.
All of the charges Marcum faces stem from indictments issued through the attorney general’s office by the Oklahoma Multicounty Grand Jury.
In court documents, McMurray says the court should grant a change of venue for the following alleged reasons:
• “Because of pre-trial publicity in county and regional newspapers, including the following: McAlester News-Capital and local blog known as the Water Cooler, as well as the Muskogee Phoenix and the Daily Oklahoman; and news articles on local radio, regional Internet Weblogs; the jury pool in Pittsburg County have been fixed upon the idea of guilt and prejudiced against the defendant so that a fair and impartial trial cannot be held in this venue,” McMurray argues in court documents.
• “Since defendant Angela Marcum’s arrest, at least 45 articles have appeared in McAlester News-Capital,” not to mention the numerous articles in other regional papers, and at least half of those have appeared on the front pages of the newspapers,” McMurray said. She said Marcum is also aware of “locally run Weblogs and other forms of broadcast and traditional media that have carried stories of the arrest and subsequent court appearances by the defendant (Marcum).”
• McMurray contends the ability to have a jury pool without prejudice or undue influence is further complicated by the fact that Marcum was a state Department of Human Services investigator/supervisor for 13 years in McAlester.
“Seven of those years as an investigator she was responsible for the removal of children from their homes. The likelihood of either a direct or indirect connection between Ms. Marcum and the jury pool in a relatively small community is extremely unlikely,” McMurray said.
• McMurray alleges the nature of Marcum’s position and the charges filed against her have been “sensationalized and exploited by the media,” resulting in “extensive, prejudicial pre-trial publicity.”
• “The publicity involved in this case has been so extensive as to enter the consciousness of the overwhelming majority of prospective jurors and to cause a fixed opinion to be reached as to the guilt of the defendant,” McMurray claims in court filings.
• No “ordinary citizen living within this judicial district can, through the ordinary course of their daily life, avoid the publicity present surrounding this trial,” McMurray contends. “Due to the nature and extent of this publicity and the pervasive circulation of the local newspapers, any trial held within this region would be done with a thoroughly prejudiced jury pool,” McMurray claimed.
• “Because of the extra judicial statements and the extensive pre-trail publicity in and around Pittsburg County, defendant Angela Marcum would not be able to be tried by an impartial jury as required by the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the corresponding provisions of the State Constitution,” McMurray contended as her ninth point.
McMurray also submitted signed form affidavits —identical except for the signatures — from those who are identified as Pittsburg County residents maintaining they are aware of the proceedings against Marcum “due to the highly-publicized media and day-to-day conversation about Ms. Marcum’s court proceedings.”
The identical forms also state that those signing the affidavits “do not believe Angela Marcum would be able to receive an impartial jury pool in Pittsburg County.”
Those whose signatures are on the affidavits include Garret Cooper, Aubrie Tripp, Gary Whitfield, Elissa Whitfield, Jimmy Cooper, Janet Hance, Daniel Hance, Richard Quaid, Jake Wood, Cyndy Redding, Bruce Wood, Debra Wood, Tanner Wood, Jerime Mote, Paula Wood, Kari Wise, Keith Stanford, Susanne Carney, Aireal Brown, and Bill Lyons.
Affidavits also contained the signatures of Nora Shackleford, Charles Carney, Richard Carney, Randy Tucker, Joshua Carney, Caleb Carney, Della Cooper, Mary Lee Maffioli, Jeremy Tucker, Reta Lyons, Florence Graham, Betty R. Woods, Kenneth Giles, Nikki Bennett, Sheri Luker, Nathan Lesnau, Lacy Lesnau, Betty L. Shelby and Carolyn Calley, along with two more where the signatures appeared illegible.
For her final point, McMurray argued that the trial could be moved to Tulsa County, which happens to be where her law office is located.
• “Tulsa County has adequate courtroom facilities and accommodations for the trial,” suggested McMurray.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.