Defense request to move trial for Scott Patrick's murder is granted


Brian Fitch

Scott Patrick

A judge has decided Brian George Fitch Sr. probably wouldn't have a fair trial in Dakota County involving charges related to Mendota Heights officer Scott Patrick's murder.

"Officer Patrick's death has impacted countless people in the Dakota County community from which a Dakota County jury would be summoned, and the wound is still fresh," stated the order changing the venue for the trial to Stearns County.

State law requires the court change the venue of a trial whenever "potentially prejudicial material" interferes with a fair trial.

"The extensive media coverage of this case, including the statement which (Fitch) allegedly made that he 'hates cops' and is 'guilty' creates a 'reasonable likelihood' that a fair trial cannot be had in Dakota County," the order said.

"It would be difficult if not nearly impossible to timely impanel a Dakota County jury that could fairly and impartially sit on this case."

On July 30, Patrick, 47, pulled over a vehicle near the intersection of Dodd Road and Smith Avenue in West St. Paul. The car's driver apparently shot the officer in the leg, abdomen and head. Patrick was later pronounced dead at Regions Hospital.

In the next several hours, multiple police departments chased leads around the metro area to track down a suspect. As hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil for Patrick, Fitch was arrested after a standoff where multiple gunshots were fired at officers making the arrest in St. Paul.

Fitch was initially charged in both Ramsey and Dakota counties in connection with Patrick's murder and the shootout with St. Paul police following the massive manhunt.

In September, a multi-county grand jury charged Fitch, 39, with one count of first-degree murder related to Patrick's death, three counts of first-degree attempted murder for allegedly firing at three St. Paul officers and illegal possession of a firearm.

Before Dakota County District Court Judge Mary J. Theisen on Nov. 26, attorneys representing Fitch and the state made arguments related to the defense motion to change the venue.

According to the venue-change order, Fitch's alleged statement "Just so you know, I hate cops and I'm guilty" garnered widespread publicity after being included in court documents.

Plus, the defense attorneys commissioned a survey from Diane Wiley, president of the National Jury Project. Of the 265 Dakota County residents surveyed, 91 percent knew of Patrick's death, and 83 percent believed Fitch was guilty or "probably" guilty, according to the court order. Thirty-one percent said Fitch had made some type of admission of guilt, and 24 percent said they felt some personal connection to the case.

The court contacted various counties about their availability and ability to take on the trial, the order said. Stearns County was able to accommodate the trial.

The schedule laid out in the order includes jury selection Jan. 12 and the trial Jan. 20, both at the Stearns County Courthouse in St. Cloud. The pretrial hearing remains scheduled on Dec. 16 at the Dakota County Judicial Center in Hastings.

"We respect the court's decision and will begin the planning needed to deal with this change," Dakota County attorney's office spokesperson Monica Jensen said in response to the order Tuesday.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillinews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

 

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