Travis County Judge Dayna Blazey ruled that the trial will move forward in Austin (Photo via Dayna Blazey Campaign)
The murder trial involving Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor for his on-duty killing of Michael Ramos in 2020 is set to commence in just over one month – and now we know that it will take place in Travis County, where the killing occurred.
Judge Dayna Blazey’s decision follows a motion from Taylor defense attorneys that asked for the trial to be moved outside of Travis County because, they argued, Taylor could not receive a fair trial in Travis.
After witnesses testified in support of both the defense and state’s motions at a hearing, Sept. 14, Blazey issued her ruling from the bench Sept. 15, saying the “defendant has failed to carry his heavy burden of proof” required to warrant moving the trial. Pretrial media coverage has not been “so pervasive and prejudicial as to create a reasonable probability that an impartial jury” could not be found in Travis County. “Nor has [Taylor] demonstrated the existence of a dangerous combination” of factors that would prevent him from having a fair trial.
The trial will resume Oct. 16, as planned, with a modified jury selection process. Blazey said that three panels of 100 prospective jurors each would be called for the first three days of trial. Prosecutors and the defense will each have two hours to question jurors in an attempt to weed out individuals they think will not be able to render an impartial verdict. If a jury is set that week, opening arguments and presentation of evidence is set to begin the following Monday, Oct. 23.
Last month, Taylor’s attorneys, Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell, laid out their argument for changing the trial venue. They claimed an impartial jury could not be impaneled anywhere within the “Austin media market” – a vague area left undefined by the defense – because too many people would have prejudiced views of their client based on pre-trial media coverage. Thus, they asked Judge Blazey to move the trial to a new county – ideally, one like Comal or San Saba, both of which are overwhelmingly white and where, in 202, Donald Trump won with 71% and 89% of the vote respectively.
To support their argument, Taylor’s attorneys pointed to a collection of a few dozen media reports, circulated body cam footage of the killing, social media posts (mostly on X, fka Twitter) from people reacting to those stories, and public statements made by Travis County District Attorney José Garza and other elected officials expressing their commitment to seeking justice for the Ramos family. They also argued that the bungled attempt to seat a jury in May (due to a variety of logistics issues) demonstrated it would be difficult to seat a jury in October. Taken together, the defense argued in their July 25 motion, it would be impossible to seat an impartial jury in Travis County.
It’s true that a full jury could not be impaneled in May, a response to the defense’s motion filed by the state this month points out. But that difficulty was mostly due to a series of unusual events that could be controlled for during a future jury selection process – not because too many of the potential jurors were unfairly prejudiced against Taylor.
Per the state’s motion, only 9.7% of 72 prospective jurors said they could not set aside their opinions of the case to hear evidence fairly and issue an impartial verdict. At one point 12 jurors had been deemed qualified, meaning the trial was only two alternate jurors short of seating a full jury. Prosecutors argued that given how close they were before Blazey declared a mistrial, May 26, it would be possible to seat a jury in October, when the trial is set to resume.
Doug O’Connell, one of the attorneys representing Taylor, declined to comment following Blazey’s decision. Gary Cobb, a special prosecutor brought in by the District Attorney’s Office to help prosecute the state’s case, also declined to comment.
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