Change of Venue Sought in Saginaw County Priest’s Sexual Assault Trials
By Cole Waterman
March 13, 2019
The sexual assault trials of a Roman Catholic priest charged in Saginaw County could occur elsewhere if a judge agrees with defense counsel’s argument that media reports have made it impossible to seat a fair jury.
Attorney Alan A. Crawford, representing the Rev. Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand Jr., on March 11 filed a motion seeking a change of venue in his client’s matters. Crawford said heavy media coverage of DeLand has prejudiced potential jurors.
Due process requires criminal defendants “receive a trial by an impartial jury free from outside influences,” Crawford wrote. He contends print and TV media reports over the past year since DeLand was initially charged preclude such an impartial jury being formed from Saginaw County residents.
In his motion, Crawford cites a series MLive published on Feb. 19, which he describes as “several damning articles targeting Defendant DeLand and an alleged conspiracy within the Catholic Church.”
The motion goes on to state “within Saginaw County there exists preconceived notions of guilty and an overall hostility towards the Defendant. Many residents of Saginaw County are enraged at Defendant DeLand based in large part on negative media coverage.”
DeLand is charged with six felonies and one misdemeanor in five separate files. The charges relate to two male teens and one man having accused DeLand of sexually assaulting them. DeLand was first charged in February 2018.
The first of DeLand’s trials is to begin with jury selection the morning of Tuesday, March 19, with Saginaw County Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson to hold a hearing on Crawford’s motion for change of venue at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, March 18.