The attorney for the woman charged in the crash that killed two Warwick High School students argues extensive media coverage and the personal opinions of Lancaster County’s district attorney warrant a change of venue for the murder trial.
Lancaster County Judge Donald Totaro recently ruled he will put the decision on hold until seeing prospective jurors for the trial of Debra Slaymaker-Walker.
Slaymaker-Walker, 63, is charged with third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter regarding the Oct. 26, 2018, crash outside the high school. Jack R. Nicholson, 16, and Meghan Keeney, 17, died from injuries suffered in the crash. A third student, 17-year-old Rylan Beebe, was seriously injured.
Her public defender Chris Tallarico argued in a pre-trial motion May 15 that extensive media coverage including "personal opinions" from District Attorney Craig Stedman "makes it difficult to find an unbiased and impartial jury" in the county.
According to Totaro's response filed May 31, the trial will be scheduled in Lancaster County. However, if during the jury selection process it’s clear that the amount of publicity has tainted the jury pool, the venue could be changed.
'Highly inculpatory publicity'
Tallarico argued that there has been "extensive, inflammatory, sensational and highly inculpatory publicity about this incident."
The volume of news reports on the case alone taints the jury pool, he said.
He also said that Stedman told reporters at a Dec. 7 news conference announcing the charges that he was "absolutely confident" Slaymaker-Walker would be convicted of third-degree murder.
Stedman called Slaymaker-Walker’s driving purposeful, evasive and effective, not consistent “with somebody that has lost control of their vehicle because of any type of medical condition.”
"The District Attorney went out of his way to disregard documented, medical evidence of Ms. Slaymaker-Walker's medical condition as well as discount her viable and persuasive theory of defense that this crash was caused by her seizure disorder ...," Tallarico said in the filing.
Request for more time
Tallarico's filing also includes more details about Slaymaker-Walker's medical history and condition after the crash.
Slaymaker-Walker was in a state of seizure when EMTs got to the scene, and she suffered another seizure on the way to the hospital, according to the filing.
She has a "long medical history" of seizure disorder and has been evaluated on a biannual basis by an epilepsy monitoring unit at Hershey Medical Center, the filing states.
Tallarico also requested a motion for continuance, or time extension, to have more time to prepare a defense. He wants to evaluate whether Slaymaker-Walker has a lack of criminal responsibility due to her seizure disorder or under an insanity defense, according to the motion.
Totaro granted the motion and asked for a status conference Aug. 27 in Lancaster County Court.