The defense for Barry Strickland has filed a motion requesting a continuance of a motion hearing scheduled for Monday to allow more time for a psychological evaluation to be completed.
A Sept. 27 court order required Strickland to undergo a mental evaluation, following a defense motion requesting it. At his last court appearance Sept. 23, Faulkner County Circuit Judge Ed Clawson set Strickland’s, who is accused in the death of Conway police officer William McGary, next hearing for Monday to allow time for the evaluation to be completed.
The defense motion requesting a continuance, filed Thursday morning, states the evaluation has yet to be completed.
“The defendant requests that the court date be moved to the next available pretrial date,” the motion states.
Monday’s hearing was meant to discuss several defense motions that have been filed in recent months, following Strickland’s last appearance.
Included in those motions, is one filed by the defense Nov. 26, requesting a change in venue for trial.
The ongoing, saturated media coverage in the death of officer McGary would make it impossible for an unprejudiced jury to be formed in Faulkner County, the defense said in a motion, which totaled 67 pages in length, and included several letters of support from county residents.
As grounds for its motion, the defense cites A.C.A § 16-88-201, which states any pending criminal case in circuit court can be moved to the circuit court of another county when it appears “the minds of the inhabitants of the county in which the cause is pending are so prejudiced against the defendant that a fair and impartial trial cannot be had in that county.”
In its motion, the defense attributes the inability to field a fair trial in Faulkner County to continuing coverage of McGary’s death, and its client’s court proceedings by local media, including the Log Cabin Democrat. The defense cites initial coverage from the Log Cabin Democrat on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, along with subsequent stories on Feb. 11, May 1, May 22, May 31, June 4, June 5, July 22-23, Sept. 21 and Sept. 23, which detailed developments in Strickland’s case.
“The difficulty of the defense in the publication of these articles is that is has generated ongoing interest and criticism in the case without publishing any context to the filing of the motions,” the defense states.
The defense further argued its point by citing negative comments, directed at Strickland, from readers on the Log Cabin Democrat’s website.
“These comments represent a sustained opinion of the defendant that has persisted several months following the incident with no sign of diminishing,” the defense motion states. “It is believed by the defense that following the filing of this motion for change of venue that if the pattern is upheld an article will be published giving notice of the filing.”
The defense also mentioned continued coverage of the case by Little Rock television stations, including KARK, KATV, KTVH and Fox 16.
Included in the motion are eight letters from Faulkner County residents who support the defense’s motion for change of venue.
In one letter, Kevin T. Lunceford, an associate broker at Pam McDowell Properties, recalls the difficulties encountered while trying to sell Strickland’s home, located in the 2800 block of Wineberry Road.
Lunceford stated there were occurrences of for sale signs being removed from the property, and trash being thrown in the yard, along with negative phone calls from the public after the house was listed.
“I began to receive phone calls from potential buyers on almost a daily basis,” Lunceford wrote. “I received several asking if this was the ‘cop killer’s’ house. Almost immediately after listing the property, I began to hear of other agents in the area speaking negatively of me for taking the listing.”
Lunceford also mentioned that the mere mention of the property, at a weekly sales meeting with colleagues, resulted in other agents speaking of “negative gossip and rumors circulating around Conway about Mr. Strickland.”
“It seemed to me the consensus was the public had already made up their minds that he was already guilty,” Lunceford wrote.
Lunceford said there was a bias, held by local residents, as a result of the information initially reported about the accident, which Lunceford later stated included “inaccuracies and speculation.”
“It is my opinion that Mr. Strickland’s right to a fair trial may be jeopardized if he were to be tried in Faulkner County,” Lunceford wrote.
Remaining letters wrote in support of the defense’s motion cited “extreme” and “negative” media coverage that could result in Strickland not receiving a fair trial.
Strickland is charged with first-degree battery and driving while intoxicated after police say his vehicle struck officer McGary, who was directing traffic Jan. 31 at an accident on Dave Ward Drive. McGary died of injuries Feb. 1.
Although he has been charged with driving while intoxicated, a toxicology report, revealed at a motion hearing in May, indicated Strickland had no alcohol or non-prescribed drugs in his system at the time of the accident.
Strickland, a two-tour Iraq war veteran, did have various prescribed drugs in his system at the time of the accident, which Shaw said were legally prescribed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
If convicted of first-degree battery, a class Y felony, Strickland would face 10 to 40 years or life in prison.
Currently, the defense also has motions to preserve officer McGary’s clothing and to inspect, examine and test physical evidence, along with motions requesting additional discovery items and a bill of particulars.
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan. To comment on this and other stories, log on to thecabin.net.)