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Ventura County

Defense Wary of Jury Pool

Court: Lawyers for a man accused of killing a college student want prospective jurors polled to determine whether news reports on the case have affected them.

January 17, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Defense lawyers want to poll prospective Ventura County jurors to gauge whether news reports about serial rapist and murder suspect Vincent Sanchez have tainted the local jury pool.

Sanchez, 31, is scheduled to stand trial on first-degree murder charges in March. He could face the death penalty if convicted of shooting to death college student Megan Barroso, 20, during an alleged kidnapping and rape attempt.

His lawyers want the trial moved out of Ventura County, arguing newspaper and television coverage has biased prospective jurors. Prosecutors are opposing the request.

During a court hearing Wednesday, Chief Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn suggested polling men and women called for jury duty next month to gauge whether they have been swayed by pretrial publicity.

The poll, which would be voluntary, would occur several weeks before Sanchez's trial and would not involve anyone who might serve as a juror in his case.

Such a poll was used a few years ago in the Diana Haun murder case, which was decided by a Santa Barbara jury because of concerns over excessive pretrial publicity.

Sanchez, an unemployed carpenter, recently pleaded guilty to numerous sex-assault counts and admitted being the long-pursued Simi Valley rapist who attacked nearly a dozen women during the past five years.

In a motion filed last month, defense attorneys contend local residents have been prejudiced by 225 newspaper articles about the Simi Valley rapes and the fatal shooting of Barroso.

Barroso died after being pulled from her bullet-riddled car near Moorpark in the early morning of July 5. Her body was found a month later in a ravine. Prosecutors contend she was a victim of an attempted rape and kidnapping.

In a response motion filed last week, prosecutors accuse the defense of exaggerating the claims of excessive publicity. A hearing on that issue has not been set.

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