|Sun, Sep 21, 2014 04:07 PM
|Issue of September 17, 2014
August 27, 2014 | 08:48 AM
The two men accused of murdering a Greenville couple last year were in Harrison Superior Court Thursday morning. Unlike past hearings, Kevin (Drew) Schuler and Austin Scott went before a judge at different times, due to a verbal sparring session between the mothers of the two defendants at the previous hearing in June.
Scott, of New Albany, and Schuler, of Greenville, are accused of beating and stabbing to death Asenath (Senie) Arnold and Gary Henderson inside the couple's home along Walk Drive in August of last year.
Schuler went before Superior Judge Roger D. Davis at about 9:50 a.m.
On July 16, Schuler's counsel, Eric J. Weitzel, withdrew from the case. He was replaced by George A. Streib of New Albany, who was named co-counsel, on July 28, with Brent Westerfeld of Indianapolis being named lead counsel.
Davis noted that, due to the change in Schuler's counsel, a reasonable delay in meeting a deadline for preliminary witness lists and other documents was acceptable, but there would be no change in the trial date of Sept. 29, 2015.
Schuler also requested permission to attend the funeral of an uncle in Salem.
Davis said he was going to defer to his past practice of not furloughing a prisoner who had a serious case pending and was not going to order the sheriff's department to escort Schuler to the funeral.
"If they choose to take him in custody, then it'll be up to them," Davis said.
Sheriff Rodney (Rod) Seelye said in extreme situations and with prisoners who are considered low-risk offenders — charged with things like driving while intoxicated or public intoxication — sometimes a prisoner can be escorted to a funeral. However, Schuler, who was charged with murder and several other felonies, along with co-defendant Austin Scott, did not fall into that category. Seelye denied the request.
About two hours after Schuler's hearing, Scott and his attorneys, Christopher Sturgeon and Amie Newlon, appeared before Davis. The only motion that had been filed by the defense was a request for a change of venue.
"The state does not object, for a litany of reasons, from a strategic and a logistical standpoint," Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk said during the hearing.
"Our biggest focus with this case is trying it one time. We've looked at other cases around the state, including Roy Lee Ward. There was not a change of venue in that case and the Supreme Court overturned it and it had to be tried again," Schalk said later. "We need to take every precaution necessary to make sure there are no appeal issues."
In the case against Ward, he was found guilty by a Spencer County jury and sentenced to death in the July 11, 2001, murder of 15-year-old Stacy Payne of Dale. Ward appealed, and the Indiana Supreme Court overturned the 2002 conviction two years later, saying jurors were exposed to too much pretrial publicity. Ward was retried in Vanderburgh County in 2007. He pleaded guilty and was again sentenced to death. He remains on death row.
Schalk went on to say that the murder case here has caused a media frenzy, due in large part to the age of the defendants, who were 18 when charged, and Schalk's pursuit of the death penalty.
"Based on the fact that the victims were well known and established in the community, it's very likely that a jury pool here would have heard something on the news at some point," Schalk said. "Seeking a fair trial is important for the state and the defendant."
Davis said there were three options to a change of venue: deny the motion and have a Harrison County jury hear the case here; have a jury from an outside county brought to Harrison County to hear the case; or move the entire trial to another county, where a jury would be selected.
Davis also noted that, if a change of venue was granted, then, according to Indiana Code, if pauper counsel was appointed — as is the case with both Scott and, now, Schuler — then the trial court to which the case was moved may remove from the case the pauper counsel furnished by the original trial court and request the original trial court to furnish another pauper counsel, appoint pauper counsel of its choice or request the public defender of the state of Indiana to provide counsel under Indiana Code 33-40-2.
After a 23-minute break to discuss the matter privately, both sides agreed that they were not prepared to proceed with the motion to change the venue and wanted to revisit the matter at a later date, Sept. 4 at 11 a.m., so all parties could have time to consider the ramifications of a possible change of venue.
Davis told the families for Scott, Arnold and Henderson that, because Schuler's hearing had already taken place, neither he nor his attorney could commit to having a hearing on Sept. 4 and that the date could change.
"I'm not saying it will; it could," Davis said.
Future hearings are scheduled for Oct. 21 at 1:30 p.m., Dec. 5, Feb. 27, April 24, June 19 (also a deadline for exhibit list) and July 15.