Suspect in death of Jaren Lockhart seeks a change of venue


Terry Speaks
Terry Speaks

Attorneys for Margaret Sanchez have asked a judge to move her trial for the killing of Bourbon Street dancer Jaren Lockhart out of Jefferson Parish, arguing that intense media coverage of her alleged role in the killing that put co-defendant Terry Speaks in prison for life has tainted the jury pool there.

Change-of-venue motions are difficult to win, making the request a long shot, but either way, it’s clear the trial is not likely to go forward on the scheduled date of Dec. 7.

Sanchez’s attorney, Anna Friedberg, also asked 24th Judicial District Court Judge Steven Grefer to delay the trial, noting in a separate filing Tuesday that prosecutors with District Attorney Paul Connick’s office have said they have no objection to a postponement, according to The New Orleans Advocate.

Prosecutors say Sanchez and Speaks lured Lockhart from Temptations Gentlemen’s Club on Bourbon Street to their home in Kenner on June 6, 2012, with the promise of easy money, only to stab her in the chest, dismember her body and scatter the pieces in the bayous of Mississippi, where they washed up on shore days later.

The case generated intense media coverage from the start, and it continued through the duo’s apprehension in Tangipahoa Parish, Sanchez’s release from prison there and her subsequent arrest in Jefferson Parish.

Speaks’ trial was covered gavel-to-gavel by newspapers, TV stations and wire services, and Friedberg noted that Internet searches of her client’s name performed as recently as Monday link Sanchez to the crime.

“In this case,” she wrote, “the attitude of the community toward Ms. Sanchez’s guilt is pervasive such that it deprives her of the right to a fair and impartial jury and warrants a change of venue.”

Friedberg argued that Sanchez’s case is uniquely deserving of a change of venue because prosecutors in the Speaks trial were able to “make it appear that there is more to the case against Margaret Sanchez than exists in reality.”

“If Ms. Sanchez were to be tried in a place where not one person knew of Mr. Terry Speaks or the dancer from Bourbon Street, she would have that impartial jury, but Jefferson Parish is not that place,” Friedberg wrote.

Speaks’ attorneys — who, like Friedberg, are with the parish Public Defenders Office — asked for a mistrial several times during his June trial because Mississippi investigators were giving interviews to TV stations on the courthouse steps, potentially tainting jurors and state witnesses.

Grefer admonished the investigators and questioned jurors, but he did not grant the request for a mistrial.

If Grefer refuses to move the trial, Friedberg asked that he allow her to individually question portential jurors about what they know about the case.

Grefer likely will rule on the motions Dec. 7, still the tentative date of the trial.