HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A judge listened to the defense's arguments for, and the prosecution's arguments against, a change of venue for the retrial of Sidney Moorer, but did not make a decision during a hearing on Wednesday.
Moorer is accused of kidnapping Heather Elvis, who has been missing since December 2013.
The defendant's public defender, James Galmore, began the hearing by arguing that there are concerns about the jurors, their safety and the community reaction to their being on the jury in the retrial of Moorer.
The defense attorney said that is why they want a change of venue. Galmore also said the concern is to get jurors who will render a just verdict, and not jurors who are "concerned about what their neighbors will think."
Prosecuting attorney Nancy Livesay said, "This defendant has the right to be tried here," saying they can get a fair trial in Horry County. She added that the answers on the first juror questionnaire sent for the trial in June were "more egregious" than the latest questionnaire, but a jury was still seated.
Judge Markley Dennis said he has not ruled on a change of venue, but if there is one, it would go to the other county that is still within the 15th Circuit Court: Georgetown County.
Livesay then argued that Georgetown County residents follow the same media coverage, and there are only 61,000 residents in that county, versus over 300,000 people in Horry County.
She said that if it was impossible to find 12 people in Horry County, it would not be possible to seat a jury in Georgetown County.
Livesay also cited precedent - she said that there have been defendants in death penalty cases that have been tried multiple times in the same county.
The prosecution argued that if the case is moved, it should be moved out of the counties in the vicinity - Horry, Georgetown, Marion, and Florence.
Dennis said he will review the submissions on the motion for the change of venue before making his decision, and will send an order with his decision.
Moorer's first trial ended in a hung jury back in June. His retrial was scheduled to take place on August 29, but at a July hearing, the judge granted a continuance, delaying the retrial. At that hearing, the judge also discussed a possible change of venue, stating that because the previous trial was broadcast by local media, finding a pool of unbiased jurors in the Horry County area would be difficult.
"I can't ignore the fact that we've had a full trial where everyone has seen it," Dennis said at that hearing. "We aren't where we were when we tried it the first time."
He said that he wanted to review the returned jury questionnaires before making a decision on the change of venue, saying it would be beneficial to both sides to decide on the venue before jury selection happens.
Former Chief Deputy Solicitor Fran Humphries said a change of venue request is a very common motion from the defense in high-profile cases, but it is extremely rare for that motion to be granted.
Humphries cited a death penalty case from Lexington County when the defendant was tried three times without a change of venue, and he said jurors were seated who were aware the defendant had been tried before.
He said the main concern is that jurors can set aside anything they have heard or seen and be fair and impartial based solely on what is presented in court.
Humphries also said the fact the kidnapping trial in June ended in a mistrial is not usually grounds by itself for a change of venue.
He added change of venue should not be granted until a jury cannot be seated where the crime happened and that process usually requires jury qualification and selection.
Moorer has been at an Horry County jail since July 29, when he was sentenced to five months incarceration on a contempt of court charge for breaking a gag order by speaking to the press during his trial in June.
HCSO Chief Deputy Tom Fox said a judge can specifically order for a defendant to not receive work credit during a sentence, but Moorer's order doesn't include that, so the jail is required to allow him to work.
Fox said high-profile inmates typically work in the kitchen or grounds inside the secure part of the jail.
If Moorer works eight hours, he would get a one-day credit, Fox said, meaning he could get out in two and a half months rather than five.
Fox also said if Moorer does not violate any rules, he could get out even sooner.