JACKSON COUNTY, Ark. – A judge has said he needs time to review evidence presented Friday morning before he makes a decision about moving the trial of a man accused of the kidnapping, rape and killing of a Jackson County woman.
Judge Rob Ratton heard arguments from attorneys for Quake Lewellyn Friday morning on their motion to move their client’s trial in the killing of Sydney Sutherland.
Lewellyn’s team called four witnesses during the hearing, three of whom were residents of Jackson County. The trio testified to the wide extent of awareness of the case among residents of the county and how details were discussed in person as well as online.
They noted how they thought many of the discussions on the case tended to center on opinions that Lewellyn was guilty of the accused crimes and the likelihood that he would get the death penalty.
Prosecutors pushed back against these claims, saying the three witnesses represented three communities out of 14 townships in Jackson County.
The defense’s fourth witness was Kelsey Harrington, a mitigation specialist with the Arkansas Public Defender Commission, who discussed the visibility of the case in the community.
Harrington mentioned a billboard outside of a local store and signs at an overpass calling for “Justice for Sydney,” as well as 38 yard signs in the community with the same messaging, with defense attorneys seeming to indicate that this level of public outcry would make it impossible for their client to get a fair trial in the county.
The defense also showed 11 online articles about the investigation and case, as well as playing out a podcast and three videos, two of which included interviews with Sutherland’s family where they discussed Lewellyn.
While his lawyers were presenting this information, Lewellyn simply looked ahead, showing no emotion.
Again, prosecutors contested these arguments, noting that the billboard and signs all focused on Sutherland without mentioning Lewellyn, asking the question that a what point does seeking justice become unfair.
The defense said that while this content is readily available to anyone with an internet connection, other locations don’t have populations with the same personal connection to the case and the people involved.
Prosecutors countered that the effort to change the venue of the case was an “abuse of discretion” by the defense and arguing that Jackson County, the Sutherland family and even Lewellyn himself are “entitled” to have the trial happen in their county.
Ratton said he will take 10 days to review the evidence & arguments. The next hearing date is currently scheduled for August 2.