Attorneys in a Mitchell second-degree murder case have began to lay out the ground rules in the lead-up to a potential trial.
Julia Lee Carter, 22, of Mitchell, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in July facing second-degree murder charges related to the death of a 5-year-old boy on June 22. She also faces alternative charges of first-degree manslaughter and first-degree manslaughter with parole.
Judge Chris Giles presided Tuesday over a motions hearing brought from Carter’s attorneys Chris Nipe and Zachary Flood, who have been appointed to Carter’s defense.
Among the most notable of those was a potential change of venue in the case and a juror questionnaire. Nipe said that the nature of the charges are “highly emotional” within the population of Davison County and said a change of venue is essential to the integrity of a potential trial. Davison County State’s Attorney Jim Miskimins stated the prosecution’s objection to a change of venue, and Giles said he will hold off his ruling until a later date.
The judge approved the use of a jury questionnaire, with the defense and the state’s attorneys deciding on the specific questions and presenting them to Giles for approval. Nipe said he was requesting the questionnaire because it would help flesh out potential jury members in the matter and could be useful in deciding whether to approve a change of venue with the charges in the case being “highly emotional.”
Giles was approached about a potential reduction of bond, which is currently $100,000. He decided to keep bond at that level, in part siding with Miskimins, who argued that a grand jury had indicted her on a second-degree charge, which alleges that it was perpetrated by an act "imminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life."
Nipe also asked for the residence where the crime allegedly took place to be preserved in its present condition throughout the court proceedings. Miskimins said the residence was never secured by law enforcement at the time of the alleged crime and hasn’t been preserved by the state. Giles did grant permission to Miskimins to pursue approaching the third-party owner of the property where the alleged crime occurred to allow both the defense and prosecution to take video and photos of the residence in its current state.
Giles agreed with Miskimins and said that while it is a “more unusual case,” because the scene wasn’t preserved at the time of the alleged crime, to go preserve it now “would not provide the type of results that the defense is looking toward” or not in a way that can be presented to the jury.
Some of the other motions agreed to included calling for both sides to make copies of reports, recordings and photos that could be used as evidence, to specifically preserve any possible evidence, for the court to sequester witnesses in order to maintain credibility for a fair trial. Also approved was suppressing any potential prior criminal history from Carter as being potentially prejudicial to her at trial. Giles said that based on the state’s Odyssey court-filing system, Carter doesn’t have any prior felony convictions in South Dakota.
Giles approved the defense’s request of use for a forensic medical expert with an initial budget of up to $10,000 and a psychiatric expert with an initial budget of $5,000. He delayed a request regarding an expert pharmacology expert in the case, with Nipe asking because he said Carter has a complex mental health history.
“I understand the reason for your request,” Giles told Nipe. “It might be reasonable but you will need to present additional evidence to have an expert of that manner appointed. … I would like that substantiated from the psychiatric expert, who might be able to give you much of what you want.”
According to court documents, Carter had admitted to the Mitchell Department of Public Safety to kicking the boy five times in the stomach and stomping on his abdomen on June 22. The boy died at Avera Queen of Peace hospital after life-saving measures were taken. Carter was initially charged with first-degree manslaughter in the case in June, and the second-degree murder charges were added in July.
On Tuesday, Carter calmly sat in the courtroom in the Davison County jail’s blue uniform with shackles around her waist and her hands cuffed. At a potential trial, Carter would be allowed to wear her own clothes to assist with presumptive innocence in the case and will not be handcuffed or shackled.
Giles said recently a potential trial in the case would take place in 2021 at the earliest.
A hearing regarding potential evidence suppression is the next scheduled court date in the Carter case, set for Oct. 30 in Mitchell.