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Attorneys for Erica Lawson File Change Of Venue Motion Saying News/Social Media Coverage Doesn't Afford A Fair Trial

From WRIL The Big One -

Erica Lawson - BCDC

On Tuesday April 30th attorneys for the Bell County woman Erica Lawson, charged in her daughter Elena's 2023 death in Middlesboro, filed a motion for change of venue.

Defense Counsels Gregory E. J. Coulson and Emily M. Croucher, are claiming local southeast Kentucky and Knoxville media, including WRIL, have contributed to Lawson not being able to receive a fair trial due to the depth of news coverage regarding the incident. This also includes multiple social media interactions.

They say that traditional media has saturated the jury pool and that the coverage has been extreme. They referenced multiple media outlets who "did not offer merely a passing story, but rather persistent news coverage which track the events of the case closely."

They also say that social media shows what they call "vitriolic hatred" for Erica Lawson, adding that social media groups consisting of tens of thousands of users "clamor for Erica’s death" and some TikTok accounts have documented immense disdain for Erica. They included the claim that "the Commonwealth Attorney’s Facebook announcement of the indictment in this matter reflects 621 positive reactions, 153 comments on the post, and that the post was shared by others 383 times."

The attorneys state in the motion that "this is confirmed by a review of social media where individuals in and out of the community express extreme hatred toward Ms. Lawson. Members of the community have called for violence and the deprivation of her constitutional rights."

At one point in the motion the attorneys state that they hired a defense investigator that sought out citizens of Bell County to acquire a "snapshot of the state of public prejudice" regarding the case. They claim the results show while those polled believe in the right to a fair trial, "when it comes to this case, however, that inclination is eroded by the prejudice of exposure in this case. This raises the implication regarding potential jurors’ ability to resist public pressure in rendering a verdict."

In the motion the defense counsel presented over forty news outlet stories and several social media screenshots regarding the case bolstering their claims. They state that: "Even with juror questionnaires and individual voir dire, it is highly unlikely that a constitutionally compliant juror is capable of being seated. This undertaking will consume weeks of time by the Court, the Commonwealth, and Defense Counsel, for the likely result of a mistrial." They call it a "doomed mission" and request the Circuit Court Judge Keith Nagle transfer this matter from Bell County and the Knoxville media market.

There is another pretrial conference for Erica Lawson in Bell Circuit Court on June 5, 2024.

The Middlesboro Police and FBI are working in conjunction on this investigation.

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