CATLETTSBURG A Boyd County Circuit Court Judge has ruled a former Boyd County deputy jailer accused of killing 40-year-old Michael Moore in 2018 will stand trial in the county, after his lawyer motioned for a change of venue based on pre-trial publicity — just weeks before his trial.
Judge George Davis ruled from the bench at a pretrial hearing that it’s not the quantity of media coverage in Zachary Messer’s case, but the effect of the publicity on the jury pool. Davis said as a longtime judge in the county, he “knows the people of Boyd County as well as anyone.”
“I know that a jury in this county can be fair and if we ask them point blank, they will answer truthfully and honestly if they can sit on this case,” he said. “If we find they can’t, we’ll move it. But with the reach of WSAZ and The Daily Independent, you can’t try it in eastern Kentucky if you can’t try it here in Boyd County.”
Messer, who is accused of participating in a number of incidents at the Boyd County Detention Center in November 2018 that led to the death of Moore, is the second of four deputies on track for trial.
Messer is scheduled for trial on Jan. 31.
Supervisor Brad Roberts went to trial in October 2021 and was convicted — Messer’s defense attorney Bob Miller argued the publicity generated by Roberts’ trial could taint the jury pool.
Prior to hearing Miller’s witnesses, Davis signaled that he would let the trial move forward in Boyd, on the basis that there were no issues seating a jury in the Roberts trial and that no one could answer whether the potential jurors have made up their mind until they go through the selection process.
“It’s a question we can’t answer until we have voir dire,” Davis said. “We were surprised to see in the first trial that there were people who didn’t know anything about it. And there were people who had heard something and could set anything they’ve heard aside.”
Miller then called four witnesses to briefly testify to before the judge, each with non-blood relations to Messer. One woman was an in-law to Messer’s family, another was the grandmother of a girl he dated in high school and two knew him through church.
With the exception of one woman who could not give a gauge on public attitude due to being a homebody, each said they heard negative things about Messer’s case in the public, indicating people have made up their minds.
Two said they believed Messer could not get a fair trial in Boyd County, while one said it was “highly unlikely.”
Boyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rhonda Copley argued that due to how close the witnesses were to the situation, Miller did not cross the evidentiary threshold. She also argued that since a jury was sat in Roberts’ case, one could be sat in Messer’s.
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