A Northwest Missouri man accused of double murder wants a trial on a lesser charge within four months after his last trial was canceled abruptly.
Garland Nelson of Braymer, Missouri, is accused of killing two brothers from Wisconsin over a cattle deal. While jailed waiting on a capital murder trial in that case, prosecutors charged Nelson with organizing the theft of a trailer.
He was supposed to face trial for the stealing charge in April, but the proceedings were canceled after media members and the victim’s advocate were kept outside the courtroom during the start of jury selection.
The closed-door proceedings lasted less than an hour. The trial was meant to take one or two days.
In a motion, Nelson’s defense lawyer said he should receive a new trial date within 120 days.
“If this court cannot set this matter for jural trial within 120 days, then the accused respectfully requests transfer to a court that can meet this demand, including a (lower court judge) if necessary,” Nelson’s lawyer wrote in the motion.
Nelson’s cases were moved from Caldwell County, where the alleged murder took place, to Johnson County because of publicity.
However, the Johnson County court was apparently unable to accommodate members of the public during jury selection, leading to a secretive process. During the closed-door hearing, it was revealed Nelson was offered a three-year plea deal on the stealing charge, but he turned it down.
Nelson’s lawyers objected to the public being kept out, and the judge then postponed the trial without a new date.
Patrick Berrigan, Nelson’s primary lawyer, previously told News-Press NOW that the Johnson County court doesn’t have the resources to create an overflow room, meaning the court can only accommodate a certain number of people as allowed by COVID-19 restrictions.
Larger courthouses sometimes have another room where members of the public can sit and watch proceedings through a closed-circuit system while the trial happens in a different courtroom.
Missouri’s courts have taken a cautious approach to reopening during the pandemic, and local judges are given discretion on social distancing, masks and other safety measures.
It’s unclear what impact COVID-19 restrictions might have on a new trial or when it would be held. However, starting June 15, local courts will no longer be required to follow a phased reopening set by the Missouri Supreme Court. Courts could fully reopen, with no restrictions, starting this week.
For Nelson’s capital murder trial, slated for June of 2022, Judge Michael Wagner previously mulled the option of holding jury selection on the campus of the University of Central Missouri to create more space.
A hearing has been scheduled for June 21 to discuss a new trial date.