Judge: Defense in quadruple-fatal DUI case can renew request at a later date
By Alex Bridges -- email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Steven Boyce's quadruple vehicular homicide case must remain in Frederick County for now, a judge ruled Friday.
Boyce, 21, of 221 Hawk Trail, Shawneeland, stands charged with four counts of aggravated involuntary manslaughter in the June 26 deaths of Amanda and Mark Roe and their children, Caleb and Tyler. Boyce also is charged with a first offense of driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.33 percent and underage possession related to the June 26 incident.
The defendant appeared with his attorneys in Frederick County Circuit Court for a hearing on their motions, one of which sought to move the case proceedings, including the trial, outside the locality.
Boyce's attorney, David Hensley, argued that extensive media coverage followed by public "outrage" over the incident would hinder their client's chances of receiving a fair trial.
"If public sentiment is that [Boyce] rot in hell or rot in jail or get a bullet in the head, I submit he won't be able to get a fair trial in Frederick County," Hensley argued.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Anthony Robbins refuted the claim, noting that media coverage, no matter how extensive and accurate, does not give cause to move a case out of the county.
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"People will say things," Robbins said.
Retired Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. denied the motion to change venue but ordered that the defense retains the right to renew their request at a later date. As the judge explained in making his decision, potential jurors would be asked during the selection process whether media coverage they may have seen or read could cause them to not remain fair and impartial during the trial.
Authorities and court documents state Boyce drove a 1985 Chevrolet S-10 pickup which rear-ended a Jeep Cherokee stopped on U.S. 11 in Stephenson.
The collision caused the fuel tank in the rear of the Jeep to explode and the family died in the ensuing fire.
Defense attorney William A. "Beau" Bassler argued that statements by five of seven witnesses to the crash contradicts the findings of the investigation conducted by law enforcement and its report issued for the incident.
Of the five witnesses Bassler mentioned, three described the crash as a T-bone-type collision. More than one witness said the pickup driven by Boyce had the green light at the intersection and thus the right of way, Bassler said.
The defense sought financial assistance to hire a private investigator the attorneys say would interview the witnesses and take the information. Bassler explained the attorneys could not interview the witnesses because doing so breaks legal ethics.
Robbins argued against Bassler's requests.
"The defense does not have a right to an investigator even in the case of capital murder," Robbins said.
Bassler also sought a product liability expert who would investigate the causal relationship between the crash and design flaws in the Jeep.
Whisenant denied defense motions for funds out of which the attorneys would hire at their discretion both a private investigator and a product liability expert. The judge granted a defense request to hire a vehicle-crash reconstruction expert but Whisenant limited the amount of public funds to $2,000.
"We believe that the Cherokee has a definite flaw in its design," Bassler said.
Robbins argued the defendant "doesn't get to pick his own expert" and those suggested by the commonwealth could suffice.
During the debate over the motion for private investigator, Whisenant thwarted Bassler's attempts to respond to Robbins' arguments against the request.
"I have other cases," Whisenant said. "We're not going to drag this out all morning."
The judge gave Bassler a few seconds to read a response filed late Thursday by the commonwealth to the motion for experts which the defense had not seen until that morning.
The judge scheduled a hearing for April 23 to hear arguments on a defense motion to suppress statements made by Boyce to law enforcement agents.
The defense indicates in its motion that Boyce made statements to law enforcement officers without the benefit of legal counsel.