By David Hotle, Golden Triangle News Service
WASHINGTON ? Due to pretrial publicity, the trial of a St. Louis, Missouri man accused of killing a Burlington High School student in 2016 will be moved to Washington County.
This week, District judge Mary Ann Brown granted a change of venue for the first degree murder trial of Jaron Purham, 25, to be moved out of Des Moines County following a request from Allen Cook III, an Ottumwa public defender appointed to represent Purham. During a hearing Thursday, Cook argued that the trial had to be moved and said Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers had agreed. Beavers concurred. Cook argued that extensive publicity about the killing made it impossible for his client to receive a fair trial in Des Moines County.
Purham is one of two men accused of killing Kedarie Johnson, 16, a gender-fluid subject who was tortured and killed on March 2, 2016. His body was found in bushes behind his South Hill residence. He had been shot twice and a plastic bag had been wrapped around his head. Co-defendant Jorge Sanders-Galvez, 23, also received a change of venue and was convicted in South Lee County District Court of first-degree murder.
The Washington County trial is expected to begin Sept. 25 and last two weeks. If convicted, Purham faces life in prison without parole.
Brown said the best option was Washington County because of its proximity to Burlington. She also didn?t believe Washington County jurors had been exposed to extensive publicity. Cook also said he wanted to preserve the right to raise the issue of a lack of racial diversity once the jury is selected in Washington County.
Cook and public defender Nicole Jensen will represent Purham in Washington County. Beavers will be assisted by assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan and U.S. Department of Justice civil rights attorney Christopher Perras.
Purham and Sanders-Galvez also face possible capital murder charges if they are tried in U.S. District Court in Davenport on hate crime charges related to the murder. A grand jury was convened in August 2017 to determine if federal charges should be filed. No decision has been reached yet.
If convicted, each could face the death penalty because a firearm was used in the commission of a hate crime.