By Joe Gorman
Attorneys for a man facing the death penalty in a mistaken-identity shooting in 2010 argued in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court that they should have the trial out of the county because extensive pretrial publicity will make it impossible to pick an impartial jury.
Prosecutors, however, asked Judge Maureen Sweeney to try to pick a jury locally first before determining if the jury pool is tainted because juries in high-profile cases have been seated here before.
The change-of-venue arguments came at the end of a 21/2 hour hearing Tuesday before Judge Sweeney in the case of Aubrey Toney, 32, who could be sentenced to death if convicted of the Sept. 25, 2010, murder of Thomas Repchic, 74.
Toney is accused of shooting Repchic because he was looking for a rival, and Repchic was driving a similar car when Toney saw him after Repchic picked up his wife, Jacqueline, 74, at St. Dominic Church.
Jacqueline Repchic was wounded in the shooting at East Philadelphia Avenue and Southern Boulevard and is in a wheelchair. She and her family were present in court Tuesday.
Also convicted was 28-year-old Kevin Agee, who will be resentenced by Judge Sweeney on Friday after the 7th District Court of Appeals ruled in December that he was sentenced improperly.
John Juhasz, one of Toney’s attorneys, told Judge Sweeney that because of the large amount of coverage the case has received, she should err on the side of caution and try the case elsewhere before calling in jurors for questioning.
Juhasz said besides media coverage the case has also attracted the attention of bloggers and others who comment on the case on the Internet.
“Sometimes it’s so extraordinary you simply cannot counter the effect of the pretrial publicity,” Juhasz said.
Juhasz said local jurors are more apt to watch or read coverage of the case than an out-of-town jury pool would be.
Assistant Prosecutor Rebecca Doherty said several high-profile capital cases have been tried in the county that have received as much or more publicity than Toney’s case, including Agee’s.
She said the question is not whether jurors have heard of the case but whether they can set aside what they have heard and render a fair and impartial verdict — and the best way to find that out would be to try to pick a jury locally first.
The trial is set for April 28. It was supposed to begin last week but was continued because a key prosecution witness is unavailable to travel.
Judge Sweeney said she will issue a ruling at a later date.
The judge also heard arguments on defense motions to exclude certain DNA and ballistic evidence. Those motions are also under advisement.