Johnson’s lawyers seek venue change |

Johnson’s lawyers seek venue change

Gary E. Salazar

— Citing “massive pretrial publicity,” attorneys for accused murderer Thomas Lee Johnson are seeking to change the venue of Routt County’s only murder case.

Earlier this week, Johnson’s court-appointed attorney, Norm Townsend, filed a motion seeking Justice Joseph Quinn to relocate the trial, which is scheduled to start Oct. 29.

The 31-year-old Johnson has been charged with first-degree murder and criminal trespass in connection with the death of Lori Bases.

The 31-year-old woman was found dead in her Steamboat Springs apartment in May 2000. Johnson allegedly stabbed the woman to death.

The request is expected to be addressed by Quinn when motion hearings resume at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 24.

According to the motion, Townsend claims the attention the case has received by local print and radio media, as well as Denver print media, has tainted the jury pool in Routt County.

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Because of so much “prejudicial pretrial publicity” a “fair or expeditious trial cannot take place in the county or the district in which the trial is pending,” the motion states.

Townsend decided to file the motion Monday because of the “massive” attention the case received from the media in August.

He claims the local media, as well as a Denver newspaper, increased their coverage of the case during a hearing where Townsend was seeking to remove 14th Judicial District Attorney Paul McLimans from the case.

“We need to go somewhere else,” Townsend said Wednesday.

Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James filed a response to the motion Tuesday and is seeking to keep the trial in Routt County.

“The state contends that a fair and impartial jury can be selected for Routt County,” the response states.

In the response, St. James also blames Townsend for providing the local media with a majority of the pretrial publicity.

St. James also argues that if the trial is moved, costs will increase, witnesses will have to travel and the victim’s family will be inconvenienced, the response shows.

“The victim’s family have a valid and important interest in having this case tried in the community,” the response states. “It’s unfair to ask a victim’s family to travel and remain for weeks in another jurisdiction.”

St. James also maintains the publicity has been extensive but does not meet the legal standard required for the trial to be moved.

For the trial to be moved, Townsend must prove the publicity “has been massive, pervasive and prejudicial.”

Townsend claims there have been more than 50 newspaper and radio news reports about the case since Johnson was arrested June 23, 2000.

Townsend also argues the local media has falsely reported his client “confessed” to the murder, the motion states.

The public defender also claims the local media increased its coverage of the case in August because 14th Judicial District Judge Joel S. Thompson recused himself from the case.

Thompson disqualified himself from the case Aug. 21 because his live-in girlfriend, 36-year-old Billy Vreeman, was arrested Aug. 10 by Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Donald Sperry.

Thompson removed himself from the case because Sperry is connected to the Johnson case.

Quinn, who is a former Colorado Supreme Court justice, was assigned to the case by the state’s court administrator Aug. 24. He presided over a motion hearing that lasted for three days at the end of August.