An attorney for a black youth accused of killing a man at a flea market two years ago is asking a state district judge to move the trial out of Lafayette Parish because of pretrial publicity, racist comments on media websites and other factors he says could taint the jury pool.
Earl Joseph III, now 17, is scheduled to stand trial this year on one count of first-degree murder in the Feb. 2, 2014, shooting death of Michael Patin at the Jockey Lot Flea Market off Interstate 49 in north Lafayette. Patin, 49, of Arnaudville, was allegedly shot in the back by Joseph, police have said.
Joseph’s court-appointed attorney, G. Paul Marx, said in recently filed court papers that pretrial publicity surrounding the case has been extensive and that local media coverage in Lafayette has exposed racism in the community via online comments.
“The often invidious and inflammatory content of the media coverage illustrates both the extent to which the pretrial publicity has been circulated around the community and the prejudice against Earl that is within the community,” Marx wrote.
The motion to change venue, filed Friday, is part of the 90-page document. Marx lays out his argument in the motion’s first nine pages. The remainder are copies of stories from local media about various phases of the case and the online comments that followed: a sanity commission’s opinion that Joseph is mentally fit to stand trial; and Joseph’s attempts to be incarcerated with juvenile offenders instead of the adult inmates he now lives with.
Marx also cites two white supremacist websites that picked up Lafayette media stories about the case. The websites copied and pasted Lafayette media stories to their websites but supplied their own headlines, such as one on The Daily Stormer’s website titled “Black Thug Will be Charged as Adult For Shooting White Man in the Back and Killing Him.”
Marx said Tuesday he could not comment on Joseph’s case, including whether the two websites that threw their editorial flavor into the story have an audience in Lafayette Parish. Marx included an Acadiana Advocate story in December 2014 about a Black Lives Matter protest on Ambassador Caffery Parkway that drew jeers from some onlookers and other signs of disapproval.
Marx wrote that race often provokes inflamed discussion here. “The crime of which Earl is accused is an interracial murder,” he wrote. “There is evidence that race, especially as it pertains to crime, is such a divisive topic in Lafayette Parish that these issues in the community could not but influence potential jurors to be prejudiced against Earl.”
Judge Patrick Michot is presiding over the first-degree murder case that would require jury selection from Lafayette Parish if the motion for a change of venue is not granted. Because of Joseph’s age — 15 when Patin was killed — the death penalty is off the table.
Marx, who heads up the 15th Judicial District Indigent Defenders Office, is taking over Joseph’s case from one of his former employees. Jane Hogan was one of several public defenders who were let go because of a money shortage. A skeleton crew of 15th District public defenders are handling only the most serious cases on the docket, including Joseph’s.
Before she was laid off, Hogan filed a request that Judge Michot throw out the grand jury indictment that charged Joseph as an adult. Hogan said that after Joseph was indicted on Feb. 5, 2014, he was “automatically and irreversibly transferred to adult criminal court” without a hearing that might have exposed “mitigating evidence” that could have kept him from being locked up with adult offenders.
In addition, she wrote, bail was immediately set at $1 million and has remained at that level, which Joseph’s family could not come close to raising.
Marx is carrying on Hogan’s effort to quash the grand jury indictment and to get Joseph removed from Lafayette Parish Correctional Center and into a juvenile facility.
“In the two years that Earl has remained at LPCC, he has been subject to multiple traumas,” Marx wrote in the latest filing. He said the teen has spent over 60 days in solitary confinement and has gained over 100 pounds because of no opportunities to exercise. He’s also been “violently attacked by an adult offender” and has spoken to his mother only through a video monitor, Marx wrote.
Joseph was arrested at his Lafayette home the morning after Patin was killed. The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office said at the time that Joseph was one of a team of juveniles who were at the flea market that night, a Sunday. Police checking out a complaint picked up most of the juveniles but not Joseph.
A Sheriff’s Office spokesman said then that Joseph shot Patin in the back after the older man confronted the teen.