A Braxton County jury will now decide the fate of a Clarksburg man accused of the 1999 double murder of his ex-wife and her friend after a change of venue was granted in the case Thursday.
Judge John Lewis Marks Jr.'s ruling came just five days before the trial of Brian Evert Ashcraft was set to start in Harrison County.
Jury selection is still scheduled to begin Tuesday, but in Sutton instead of Clarksburg, according to West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals documents filed Friday in the Harrison County Circuit Clerk's office.
Marks issued the ruling after one of two hearings on the matter conducted this week, said Tom Dyer, Ashcraft's attorney.
Marks could not be reached for comment Friday.
Marks, Dyer, and Harrison County prosecutors will travel to Sutton for the case.
Ashcraft is accused of the June 1999 murders of his ex-wife, Heather Ashcraft, and her friend, Bridgeport firefighter J.T. Honce.
In addition to two first-degree murder charges, Ashcraft also faces one count each of wanton endangerment and of carrying a concealed weapon.
Dyer tried unsuccessfully in early May to get the trial moved out of Harrison County because of pre-trial publicity. But Marks ruled that, although the case was heavily publicized, an impartial jury could be seated.
The trial originally was scheduled for May 22, but it was continued at the defense's request.
Prosecuting Attorney Edmund Matko said Friday that he could not comment on a pending case.
Dyer presented new evidence during the hearings, he said. Since the May proceedings, the defense has conducted a survey of area residents to help determine public opinion about Ashcraft, he said.
"The defense had a survey done that shows that two-thirds of people (in Harrison County) have an opinion about his guilt or innocence," Dyer said.
The survey did not indicate if most believe Ashcraft is guilty or not guilty, but it does show they have made up their minds about the case, Dyer said.
In change-of-venue cases, the presiding judge has authority over whether or not to move the trial to a new location. The supreme court's only role is to find a new venue.
Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.