HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A change of venue has been ordered in the kidnapping trial of Sidney Moorer, charged in connection with the December 2013 disappearance of Heather Elvis.
A retrial in the case will now take place in Georgetown County and a jury will be picked from there as well, according to an order filed with the Horry County Clerk of Courts. A new trial date has not been announced.
The order stated the defendant filed a request for a change of venue on July 26. That request followed Moorer's June kidnapping trial, which ended with a hung jury and a mistrial.
"Mere exposure to pretrial publicity does not automatically disqualify a prospective juror," the order stated. "Instead, the relevant question is not whether the community remembered the case, but rather the jurors had such fixed opinions that they could not judge impartially the guilt of the defendant."
In response to the request for the change of venue, the state submitted juror questionnaires in an effort to show a fair and impartial jury could be seated in Horry County, according to the order signed by Judge Markley Dennis. In examining those questionnaires, the court determined that, due to social media exposure, the "community as a whole has been saturated with the case."
"For example, the court found that there have been a number of reports of potential jurors posting on Facebook that they 'know how to get around the judge by just saying that they can be unbiased,'" the order stated.
According to the court documents, the primary concern was whether a fair and impartial trial may be had in the case, to which "the court finds that it cannot."
Terry Elvis, the father of Heather Elvis, released the following statement regarding the change of venue:
That decision the judge has made, in essence to me, says that Judge Dennis believes the people in Horry County can't be trusted to dispense justice. I believe they can. However, the first time, the judge allowed a friend of the defense attorney to sit on the jury, even though there was a motion from the solicitor's office that he be removed for cause. I don't believe Horry County is so empty of people that are unbiased that they can't seat a jury. I'd have rather seen him at least try to seat a jury than to make a decision based on what he'd seen online and what he'd seen from the jury polls that were sent out. I think the citizens of Horry County came really close to dispensing justice, but there was an immovable block in their way that should have never been allowed. Moving this to Georgetown won't solve anything; the same media outlets exist. Regardless, this is a huge inconvenience for everyone. Horry County will have to travel. The people of Georgetown County are well familiar with the facts of the case, just like everybody else is, and no matter where you seat a jury, guilty is guilty.
A hearing on the request for a change of venue was held in September.
Prosecuting attorney Nancy Livesay argued at the time 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.