Lawyers for a former Catholic school teacher accused of sexually abusing multiple students claim he cannot get a fair trial in Williston.
The attorneys representing Everest Moore have filed a motion in Northwest District Court asking for a change of venue. Prosecutors have opposed that move, saying they think an impartial jury can be found in Williams County.
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Monday before Northwest District Judge Josh Rustad.
James Martens, one of Moore’s lawyers, wrote that 75 jury questionnaires were sent out and 67 were returned. Four potential jurors were excused and out of the remaining 63, “over half of the responding prospective jurors indicated they either knew the parties involved, had ties to St. Joseph’s, had personal histories or close friends and family members with histories of sexual abuse, had affiliation with support groups in the country that are targeted toward the families involved in this matter, or indicated strong feelings and preconceptions of guilt toward Moore.”
Britta K. Demello Rice, an assistant attorney general who is prosecuting the case, argued that the jury questionnaires did not reveal prejudice.
“Of the 25 that answered “yes” to Question No. 65 — acknowledging that they had heard about the case involving Everest Moore — 17 of the potential jurors had a neutral answer or no answer at all,” she wrote in a response. “This means a majority of potential jurors have not firmed an opinion about the case. Approximately five jurors had their minds made up about guilt or punishment, which was expressed in their answers.”
Demello Rice wrote that it was premature for the defense to claim there wasn’t any way to seat an impartial jury in the county. Rather, she said, the proper time was after potential jurors were questioned.
Moore’s attorneys, however, claimed that there was a possibility the bias expressed by some potential jurors would spread the bias.
“Were we to proceed with many of the responding potential jurors here, there is a high probability the proverbial horse would be let out of the barn, regardless of any attempts to “rehabilitate,” and would taint the remaining pool,” Martens wrote.
Moore, who taught for five years at St. Joseph Catholic School, was first arrested in March 2018 and charged with three class A felony counts of gross sexual imposition.
He was accused of inappropriately touching three girls.
Eventually, five further class A counts of gross sexual imposition were filed, with two coming in April and three more coming in June.
He has been free on bond since his initial arrest.
His trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 23.