A Nashville judge has denied Metro Police Officer Andrew Delke’s request to bring in jurors from another county for his upcoming murder trial.
Delke’s attorneys argued at a hearing earlier this month that Davidson County won’t be able to seat an objective jury. But in a ruling released Tuesday afternoon, Judge Monte Watkins rejected that claim.
Watkins didn’t mince words: His order is barely more than a page long. And the judge’s opinion is clear. He thinks there are enough people in Davidson County who haven’t heard about the high-profile shooting to give Officer Delke a fair trial.
“[T]his Court believes it can empanel a jury of citizens who have no knowledge of the case or who can be fair and impartial,” Watkins wrote.
Delke’s defense team had asked for an out-of-town jury, because they think the local pool has already been biased by news coverage.
“The coverage in this case incorporates emotional, sensational, and prejudicial elements that are likely to undermine the presumption of innocence and create undue excitement against Officer Delke,” his attorneys wrote in their motion.
The officer’s lawyers went on to cite dozens of excerpts from local news stories they deemed “inflammatory.” At a recent hearing, an expert witness for the defense estimated that at least 161 print articles had been written about the case since last July. He also surveyed a sample of Davidson County residents and found that about two-thirds had already heard about the incident.
In his ruling, Watkins agreed that this case has gotten publicity. Delke is the first Nashville officer to be indicted for murder for shooting and killing a civilian in the line of duty, and surveillance video of the shooting has been widely shared in the news and on social media.
But the judge thinks the court can find enough fair and impartial jurors, just as other courts have done in the past, through the selection process.
“[T]he voir dire process is available to exclude potential jurors who may have an improper bias,” Watkins wrote.
An attorney for Delke declined to comment or say whether they plan to appeal.
Tennessee law allows courts to move a trial or provide jurors from another county “when a fair trial is unlikely.” In this case, however, Watkins wasn’t convinced that enough local residents had already made up their minds about whether Delke is guilty or innocent.
But jury selection could be weeks, or even months, away. Prosecutors have said they’d like to start Delke’s trial as early as January, However, a date has not yet been, and additional requests from the defense team could further delay the timeline.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.