The trial for a Frost teen charged in the beating of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate will not be moved nor delayed.
In a March 18 ruling, Martin County District Court Judge Michael Trushenski says 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland’s trial will be held as planned — April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court.
Tungland has pleaded innocent to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.
Defense attorney Chris Ritts argued during a hearing held March 1 that his client could not get a fair trial due to pretrial publicity and because he is an African-American living in a predominantly white county.
Ritts suggested Hennepin, Ramsey, Carver or Aitkin counties as possible locations for the four-day jury trial.
But, Trushenski says extensive media coverage of the case does not present a reasonable likelihood that Tungland would not get a fair trial.
“It appears to the court that those stories are fact-based and not inflammatory or opinionated/biased against the defendant,” he says. “Additionally, many of those stories are six months to a year old.”
The judge says potential jurors exposed to print and television news reports is insufficient to show prejudice.
“Rather, the test is whether a prospective juror can set aside an impression or opinion and render an impartial verdict,” Trushenski says.
On the issue of race, the judge says none of the news stories presented by Ritts mention race, “The defense attorney is the only person who has made an issue of the defendant’s race.”
While the court is aware the population of Faribault County is predominantly white, says the judge, the defense provided no information about the county’s demographic makeup.
Trushenski dismissed Ritts’ contention that “conversation strings” on social media would impact the trial, saying they appear to essentially be from the same individuals.
In trying to get the trial delayed, Ritts says a witness charged with perjury was a “calculated move” by the Faribault County Attorney’s Office to deprive his client the right to a fair trial.
Last July, a mother and daughter testified during an omnibus hearing that Tungland could not have been involved in the assault because he was at their house during the time of the incident.
Ritts says because the witness is facing felony counts of perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation, her attorney has told him she will plead the fifth under the Fifth Amendment to protect herself from self-incrimination.
“The defendant has not shown that the Faribault County Attorney’s Office interfered with the witness’s decision to testify or her decision to plead the fifth,” Trushenski says. “The state (county attorney’s office) has the right to file charges against individuals who they believe committed a crime.”