INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer David Bisard's trial will be held in Fort Wayne, a Marion County judge decided Thursday.
Bisard is charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, reckless homicide and criminal recklessness. He is accused of hitting three motorcyclists with his squad car while drunk in August 2010, killing Eric Wells, 30 and injuring Mary Mills and Kurt Weekly.
NEW COURT, NEW JUDGE
Citing "intense media scrutiny" surrounding the case, in December, Judge Grant Hawkins ruled the case would move out of Marion County. He asked prosecutors and Bisard's defense team to submit a list of 10 acceptable counties and judges. Hawkins narrowed that list to three: Allen County, St. Joseph County and Jefferson County, said Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson.
On Thursday, Hawkins announced the case would be heard in Allen County Superior Court. He also announced he would not oversee it.
"Rule of law allows the original judge to follow the case, but I have to keep in mind my duties to this court," Hawkins said in court. "With that, my involvement in this case has ended."
Hawkins appointed Judge John Surbeck in his place.
Before being appointed a Superior Court judge in 1988, Surbeck served as an Allen County deputy public defender from 1972 to 1988, according to the Allen County Courts.
For Mary Wells, Eric's mother, the decisions marked a significant milestone.
"We're getting close. It's been two and a half years. It's been a long road. And, at least now we can see the end of the tunnel," she said, fighting back tears.
"This will go ahead and bring some closure to a lot of us," agreed Dennis Graham, a family friend of victim Mary Mills, who has attended most court proceedings over the last two years. "It's a little inconvenient. But, I understand we're trying to safeguard his rights to a fair trial as well. I understand that and I respect that. I'm looking forward to Fort Wayne now."
Both Bisard's lead defense attorney John Kautzman and Robinson praised the choice of county and judge, though a motion Kautzman filed asking for the venue to remain secret was denied by Hawkins.
"This would keep the case here and keep the presiding judge from prepping for the case," Hawkins told Kautzman.
"We filed a motion simply that this information, as far as the new county, did not need to be widely publicized when there still hasn't even been a trial date set. But, we are very confident that Allen County and Judge Surbeck will handle all the issues in the case very, very well. I don't think anybody that looked at this case objectively thought a fair and impartial jury could be picked from Marion County. So, at that point, we had to try to get ourselves outside the Indianapolis media reach," Kautzman said.
Asked if Allen County was considered a good choice for prosecutors as well, Robinson nodded.
"The evidence in this case involves driving in an urban area. And, I think one of the considerations we had was that this trial be in an urban area where that driving behavior could come to light," she said.
When asked if Bisard could have received a fair trial in Marion County, Robinson said she wasn't sure.
"I think there was a probability of that. I don't know how high the probability. I think we would have had to try to get a test jury to make that determination. And, I don't know how that would have worked," she said.
"I feel he could have," agreed Mary Wells. "They feel that the media is the reason they wouldn't get a fair trial. But, I don't believe the media is not going to come to the new county."
All admitted the move up I-69 will be tough.
"We have to basically transport an office up to Allen County," Robinson said. "We'll be prepared to load up the U-Haul and take off."
"There [are] practical difficulties to take a case of this magnitude on the road. But, frankly, it's the only choice we have," Kautzman said.
Moving the trial will also cost Marion County taxpayers, though neither side said they were certain what those costs might be. Robinson, who prosecuted the case against Brian Reese, who was convicted of shooting former IMPD officer Jason Fishburn in the head. That case was moved out of Marion County to Porter County, at a cost of around $10,000 in additional court costs, Robinson said.
"That was about a week and a half trial," Robinson said. "I would expect this one to be a little longer. So, you're probably looking at higher costs."
For those who have been watching the case slowly unfold for nearly three years, the time has come for final resolution.
Bisard is set to appear before Judge Surbeck on March 8. It's likely a final trial date will be set at that time, Robinson said.
"We at least know where we are going," Mary Wells said. "So, that helps us plan as a family. And, of course we'll be there. I'll be there every day for my son. If we have to sleep in a tent, it doesn't matter. We'll be there."
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