By David Knopf/Richmond News
Two of the three suspects in the 2012 Michelle Rheuport death maintained their not-guilty pleas Jan. 10 before a new judge, who set a Feb. 27 court date to hear motions in Carroll County.
Clay County Circuit Judge Larry Harman agreed to a change of venue for Brandon Simpson, a Richmond resident and former state-wrestling champ who is charged with murder in the first degree, as well as two lesser felonies and a misdemeanor.
Waving several copies of a newspaper, Simpson attorney Stanley Thompson said that local coverage of Rheuport’s May 2012 strangulation death had tainted his client’s chance for a fair trial.
“The problem is I have publicity in Ray County (The Richmond News) and I have publicity in Clay County (Excelsior Springs Standard),” Thompson said.
Harman said he had no problem with changing the venue.
“I don’t really care where we try it,” said Harman, who heard last week’s arguments in Ray County.
“We are more than happy to go to Carroll County with you as judge,” said Thompson, a former prosecutor who is based in Richmond. “We want to go away from where the publicity is.”
However, Rheuport’s death and subsequent court developments have also been reported by KMZU, a Carrolton radio station, which had a reporter in the courtroom last week.
Thompson waived a reading of the charges against his client and maintained Simpson’s not-guilty plea.
He remains in custody in Ray County on a $1 million bond.
During last week’s court proceedings, Thompson and Ray County Prosecutor Danielle Rogers couldn’t agree on what evidence was currently available or could be shared with the defense. Thompson said he had requested but not received a forensics report and cell phone logs related to his client’s defense.
“Until I get those, I can’t proceed,” he told Harman. “It’s been nine months, and surely we should have those by now.”
Rogers said the prosecution was still waiting for test results from the highway patrol.
“We are not in receipt of any of the DNA samples we submitted to the highway patrol lab,” she said. “Until we have those, I’m not ready to predict a date that we’ll be prepared.”
Harman said his calendar was so booked that the case wasn’t likely to reach the trial stage until August at the earliest. With the agreement of both the defense and prosecution, he set a tentative Aug. 26 start date for a five-day jury trial in Carroll County.
At 1 p.m. Feb. 27, Harman said he’d hear motions, also in Carroll, including a Thompson motion to suppress evidence.
The judge said one priority would be to ensure that Simpson receives a speedy trial.
“It’s a felony case, and we need to move,” he said. “I didn’t realize the case was 9 months old. I’ve only had it since September.”