By James Beaty
District Judge Kenneth Adair, of Okmulgee, has denied a court motion by Angela Marcum’s attorney, Shannon McMurray, for a change of venue in an upcoming trial Marcum faces in Pittsburg County on embezzlement charges.
Adair issued his ruling following a day-long hearing held Thursday at the Pittsburg County Courthouse in McAlester.
Citing pre-trial news coverage, McMurray had contended that Marcum — who is the former District 18 Drug Court coordinator — could not get a fair trial in Pittsburg County.
Senior Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General Charles Rogers disagreed, maintaining that Marcum could indeed have a fair trial in front of a Pittsburg County jury.
During the hearing, the judge also denied several other motions by Marcum’s attorney, including a request to quash, or throw out, a search warrant used to seize records and equipment from District 18 Drug Court.
He also denied a motion to quash counts three through eight in an Oklahoma Multicounty Grand Jury indictment issued against Marcum, which had resulted in the charges filed in the case.
Marcum is charged with multiple counts of embezzlement in connection with money and equipment allegedly missing from the District 18 Drug Court, which serves Pittsburg and McIntosh counties.
Marcum has pleaded innocent to the charges. She is accused of embezzling money paid in the form of fees and other costs paid by District 18 Drug Court participants. Drug court participants have an opportunity to avoid prison or jail time upon successfully completing the program.
In addition to the embezzling charges, Marcum also faces a conspiracy charge in a separate state multicounty grand jury indictment.
As part of her legal arguments regarding the change of venue request, McMurray had submitted approximately 40 signed affidavits from Pittsburg County residents, with the statements in the affidavits maintaining Marcum could not get a fair trial in the county.
During the legal arguments, Rogers had noted that all of the affidavits contained identical wording, except for the names and addresses of those who signed the papers.
In announcing his ruling to deny the change of venue request, Judge Adair made a similar observation.
“Looking at the affidavits, they’re all the same,” Adair said.
The judge also addressed the issue of pre-trial coverage in the newspaper.
“Pre-trial publicity alone is not enough to move a trial,” the judge said.
The judge noted that some of those who testified Thursday — who had identified themselves as Marcum’s friends, co-workers, or acquaintances — had indicated they were annoyed at the press coverage.
However, the judge said he had seen no evidence presented that the coverage had been inaccurate.
The judge also said that based on the demeanor of some of the witness who testified Thursday, he was not sure that all of those who signed the affidavits had understood what they were signing.
That brought a response from McMurray.
“If I had time, I would have hired an investigator and he would have done it much more in depth,” she said.
Earlier, under questioning by Rogers, a number of the witnesses had stumbled on the witness stand when Rogers had asked them what the phrase “extra judicial statements” meant in the affidavits they had signed.
Some had no answer; some said they didn’t know, while another said he guessed it meant people talking among themselves.
The judge said a Pittsburg County jury will be selected in the case and he indicated he’s ready to spend whatever time it will take to seat a jury, “if it’s three, or four or five days.”
Rogers, with assistance from licensed legal intern Laureen Hammonds, had questioned some of the witnesses who had signed the affidavits — although most of them were not present for the court hearing.
Charles Carey led off the witnesses who testified during the hearing — all of whom had signed affidavits supporting McMurray’s request for the change of venue.
Carey said family members had discussed the case and he had overheard other people talking about it, but he didn’t know their names.
“Once, I was in a restaurant and I heard people talking about it, and even in my church I heard people talking about it,” he said.
Under further questioning by Rogers, Carey said nothing he had read in the newspaper had convinced him that Marcum was guilty.
Another witness, Susanne Carney, also said she believes Marcum is innocent. Asked who brought her the affidavit she had signed, Carney said, “I believe Angie brought me the paper.” She said she and Marcum’s children had played ball together,
Carney criticized the fact that Marcum’s photo has been in the paper accompanying news stories about court action in the case. Carney maintained the coverage would make Pittsburg County residents think Marcum is guilty. Carney also said she keeps to herself and hasn’t talked with anyone but her husband about the case.
Rogers wondered how she could form the opinion that Marcum could not get a fair trial in Pittsburg County if she hasn’t talked with others about the case.
“You don’t know anybody else in Pittsburg County who has been negatively impacted?” Rogers asked.
“I say no. I don’t talk to anybody,” she said.
Carney returned to the theme of press coverage of the case.
“This has been going on for a million years,” she said.
“It’s stupid to focus so much attention on this woman,” Carney said. “If she’d killed somebody, I still wouldn’t understand it.”
Another witness, Carolyn Calley, said she and Marcum both work at the school in Haywood, where Marcum is a counselor.
Calley said she does not think Marcum is guilty. Rogers then asked her if she’d read anything in the newspaper to make her think Marcum’s guilty.
When she replied in the affirmative, Rogers said, “I thought you told the court you didn’t think she’s guilty.”
Rogers also asked Calley, “Do you believe the people of Pittsburg County are fair or unfair when it comes to criminal justice?”
“Unfair,” Calley replied.
Another witness, Della Cooper, also said she’s a teacher who works with Marcum at Haywood Public Schools. She also criticized the coverage of Marcum in the press.
She said nothing she’s read had convinced her Marcum is guilty.
Rogers asked Cooper if she thought the people in Pittsburg County were so unfair-minded that Marcum couldn’t get a fair trial.
“It’s possible,” she replied.
Garrett Cooper, the next witness, was asked a few questions. He said he knew Marcum was charged with embezzlement.
Another witness, David Franklin, said he’s a neighbor of Marcum’s and knew about the case “because it’s been all over the paper.” He also said he didn’t think Marcum could get a fair trial in Pittsburg County.
“There are a lot of people who are biased,” he said.
Franklin said that Marcum had given him the affidavit he signed.
Sheri Luker also said she and Marcum both work at Haywood Public Schools. Like others, she said she believes Marcum is innocent. Rogers asked her if articles in the newspaper had made her think Marcum is guilty and Luker replied “no.” She also said she could name no one who had been convinced Marcum was guilty because of the press coverage.
Following the hearing and the judge’s decision, McMurray had no comment on his ruling, but she did say something about Marcum.
“Angie has been a dedicated service member of this community,” McMurray said. She said that Marcum had spent some of her own money for a desk and other materials used for drug court.
A trial date has not yet been set in the case.
Following the hearing, the parties agreed to hear further pre-trial motions in the case at a date to be set during the fourth week in September.
Among the matters yet to be decided before the case goes to trial is a motion by McMurray alleging double jeopardy in the charges filed against her client.
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.