Judge Terry Rickers granted a motion filed separately by Marc and Misty Ray, who stand accused of 17 charges related to the death of their 16-year-old, adopted daughter, Sabrina Ray, to change the venue out of Dallas County.
The motion was granted during a hearing on Wednesday, Aug. 22 at the Dallas County Courthouse.
Attorneys for Marc and Misty Ray asked for the trial to be moved out of Dallas County because of the extensive media coverage in the Central Iowa area, along with a heavy social media presence surrounding the case.
Misty Ray’s defense attorney Sean Spellman said a fair and impartial trial can’t be had in Dallas County. Significant media coverage, he said, has led people within the county to have a negative impression of the Rays and the case.
Spellman added that the negative impression came out of juror questionnaires that were handed out to potential jurors in Dallas County. Of the 279 completed questionnaires, 134 individuals answered questions stating they couldn’t be fair and impartial. 133 answered that they could be fair.
“That’s concerning,” he said. “It would deprive (Misty) of a fair trial.”
Spellman said there were also hostile and other comments made on social media surrounding the case. Those comments combined with extensive media coverage to the point that Spellman believes a fair and impartial trial could not be had in Dallas County.
Roger Owens, a defense attorney for Marc Ray, agreed with Spellman’s arguments.
The State of Iowa argued that the defendants failed to show any evidence that a fair and impartial trial could not happen in Dallas County. Further, Jeannine Ritchie, assistant county attorney, said that the extensive media coverage would follow the case no matter where it was moved to.
The State’s numbers from the questionnaires show 61 percent of potential jurors indicated they could be fair and impartial.
Spellman and Owens questioned those numbers from the State. The defense numbers show only 50 percent of potential jurors said they could be fair and impartial.
As to the question of evidence, Owens pointed to the juror questionnaires as the defenses’s evidence as to whether a fair trial could be held in Dallas County.
Rickers agreed, saying that his assessment of the jury questionnaires is the most weighty piece of evidence on the issue of the change of venue.
“At least 50 percent of potential Dallas County jurors have already made up their mind on the case,” he said.
Those minds were made up partly because of the extensive media coverage in the Central Iowa area. Many others, Rickers said, have posted hostile or passionate opinions on the outcome of the case on social media.
“I find it necessary to change the venue to a location outside of Central Iowa,” he said.
The decision comes, Rickers said, as he finds it difficult to have a fair and impartial trial in Dallas County.
While the court has no control over where the case will be tried, he said his recommendation would be to try it on the western or eastern borders of the state.
Rickers will also be deciding motions this week related to the case against Marc and Misty Ray. Rickers heard motions from both defendants to sever Counts 15, 16 and 17 from Counts 1-14. The charges, filed on May 2, include ongoing criminal conduct - unlawful activity, first degree theft and first degree fraudulent practice.
He also heard a motion from both defendants asking to dismiss Count 12, on the charge of first-degree murder.
Both of those decisions will be made within the week.
Marc Ray filed a motion on Thursday, March 8 to have his trial moved out of Dallas County. Misty Bousman-Ray followed suit with a similar motion on Friday, March 16.
Marc, and his wife, Misty Bousman-Ray, were arrested on May 18, 2017, after their adopted 16-year-old daughter was found deceased in the family’s home at 1708 First Ave., which was also the home of Rays of Sunshine Daycare. Marc and Misty were allegedly in Florida on vacation at the time of Sabrina’s death.
Originally, Marc and Misty were charged with one count of child endangerment resulting in death, four counts of child endangerment resulting in serious injury and three counts of neglect or abandonment of a dependant person. On Oct. 3, 2017, Marc and Misty were additionally charged with first-degree murder and Marc was additionally charged with second- and third-degree sexual abuse.