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Murder trial to be held in Raleigh County

by Vicki Smith

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

FAIRMONT -- The first Marion County teen-ager to be tried in the murder of a gay black man will face jurors in Raleigh County in November.

Marion County Circuit Court Judge Rodney Merrifield late Wednesday signed an order moving David Allen Parker's first-degree murder trial to the southern West Virginia county, his secretary confirmed Thursday.

A copy of the order does not set a trial date, but the secretary said it is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 15. Merrifield had verbally approved a change of venue earlier this week after a preliminary hearing that has been continued to Oct. 12.

Lawyers for Parker and co-defendant Jared Wilson, both 17, had suggested Raleigh County as a possible venue, arguing media coverage of the murder in North Central West Virginia has made it too difficult to find impartial jurors.

Attorney Stephen Fitz said Monday that Raleigh has a diverse population and probably has had far less exposure to the case. Prosecutor Richard Bunner did not object to the move.

Parker and Wilson are charged with beating and kicking to death 26-year-old acquaintance Arthur "J.R." Warren on July 4, then running over him with a car to disguise his injuries as a hit-and-run.

In his order changing the venue, Merrifield cited a vigil for Warren that drew more than 500 people to the courthouse steps days after the murder.

The rally also attracted national gay- and civil-rights activists and an anti-gay group from Kansas. National print and electronic media then took greater interest in the case.

News organizations from Pittsburgh to Clarksburg have since saturated the region with coverage in newspapers, and on radio and television, Merrifield said. The Dominion Post of Morgantown and the Times-West Virginian of Fairmont have each filed more than 25 stories, he said.

"Nearly all of these newspaper articles have been located on the front page and, in fact, most of these articles have been the lead story for that particular day," Merrifield wrote.

The coverage has contained detailed information about the investigation and clearly illustrates that many Marion County residents "have become emotionally involved in this case and have prejudged the defendant's guilt," he said.

Parker has already confessed to beating Warren, but the judge has yet to decide whether jurors will hear that confession.

In his statement to Sheriff's Detective C.L. "Chip" Phillips, Parker admitted beating Warren after discovering he had told other people about a sexual relationship he claimed to have with Parker.

Wilson told Phillips that he went along with the beating because he was afraid of Parker, who had threatened to beat him, too.

But defense teams argue that both boys' confessions were improperly obtained. They say neither was informed of his right to an immediate juvenile detention hearing.

They also contend Phillips delayed moving the boys from Grant Town to the courthouse so he could elicit the confessions. Phillips denies any wrongdoing.

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