A Walworth County judge Friday denied a Whitewater man’s request to move his reckless homicide trial to another county because The Gazette had written stories that could sway potential jurors.
Judge Phillip Koss rejected claims from lawyers representing Jeremy D. Meyer, who said they could not get an impartial jury for Meyer’s February trial after The Gazette published a “tear-jerker” story Sept. 30 and a shorter follow-up Dec. 6.
In September, The Gazette wrote about Jessica Gault, a Whitewater woman whose boyfriend, Joshua R. Syck, died of a fentanyl overdose one day before his 35th birthday in 2017.
Gault has said she and Meyer found Syck’s body on the UW-Whitewater campus. Prosecutors have accused Meyer of delivering the drugs that killed Syck.
Meyer, 37, of 424 Pleasant St., Whitewater, and Kori L. Kincaid, 40, of 522 E. Clay St., Whitewater, are charged with party to first-degree reckless homicide by delivering drugs, possessing drug paraphernalia and neglecting a child.
Meyer is also charged with party to theft from a corpse. Prosecutors believe he took Syck’s wallet because he was concerned about his and Kincaid’s DNA being found on a heroin bag in the wallet.
Meyer and Kincaid both have pleaded not guilty.
Meyer’s lawyers, Mackenzie Renner and Jason Sanders, filed their motion Jan. 4. They said The Gazette’s profile of Gault, a video interview of her and a follow-up story about a letter former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch sent to Gault would sway the jury months after the stories’ publication.
“Articles such as this are intended to provoke an emotional response,” the motion states. “The emotional response from such an article is likely to have sway on the jury, clouding the facts presented.”
In a reply filed Jan. 7, District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld said the two articles, which describe the pain families experience after an overdose death, “can hardly qualify as extensive publicity warranting a change of venue.”
Wiedenfeld also pointed out the number of times Meyer is mentioned in the stories, which total more than 3,000 words. Meyer is mentioned because he is accused of delivering the drugs and was present when Syck was found.
He is also mentioned when Gault says she does not want to be in the same room with him—“something that almost every victim of a crime can relate to,” the district attorney wrote.
Wiedenfeld said lawyers will be able to ask jurors during the selection process if they are familiar with the stories. He said moving the trial to another county would be a waste of resources.
Koss said the county has picked juries for much higher-profile cases, including some that drew attention from national media outlets.
He also said Walworth County, where there is no daily newspaper, is “very splintered” in terms of which media outlets residents follow.
Still, Koss asked both parties not to comment on the case any further. Earlier, he spoke specifically to Wiedenfeld.
“As a prosecutor, you have a duty to control law enforcement so that they don’t comment publicly on the case,” Koss said.
Meyer was scheduled for a trial the week of Feb. 18, but Koss decided to grant the defense’s request to postpone it again. The defense had received some elements of the case files only recently and was still trying to secure an expert witness.
Kincaid is scheduled for a trial the week of Feb. 25.