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Trial in Abby and Libby murders will stay in Delphi, judge rules
During a hearing Friday, judge rejects change of venue for Richard Allen, accused in the 2017 murders of Abby Williams and Libby German. Instead jurors will be brought to Carroll County.
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No one in the courtroom Friday morning seemed to doubt it would be, as Judge Fran Gull put it, impossible to pick a jury in Carroll County in the trial of Richard Allen, charged with the 2017 murders of Delphi teens Abby Williams and Libby German.
But Gull, an Allen County Superior Court judge called in as special judge in the high-profile case, said Friday that she didn’t want to move the trial away from Delphi, where family and the bulk of the witnesses were.
Gull declined a request from Allen’s court-appointed attorneys for a full-fledged change of venue, one that would be at least 150 miles from Carroll County, where investigation into Abby and Libby’s murders has been an all-consuming, community affair, according to a motion filed in December. Instead, Gull agreed to get a jury pool from another Indiana county and bring jurors to Delphi for Allen’s trial.
“I think it's really important that we try the case in Carroll County,” Gull said during a 10-minute hearing in a full Carroll Circuit Court courtroom.
She told Carroll County Prosecutor Nick McLeland and Allen’s attorneys, Brad Rozzi of Logansport and Andrew Baldwin of Franklin, to bring her a suggested county for the jury pool in the coming weeks.
On Friday, Allen was ushered into the courtroom wearing a yellow prison jumpsuit and black protective vest, shackles on his hands and legs, and seated at a defense table that had been swept by two police officers minutes ahead of the hearing.
Allen appeared thinner and more drawn than he did during his previous hearing on Nov. 22. Allen did not speak during the hearing.
Allen was charged in October, the first person formally linked to the Feb. 13, 2017, deaths of Williams and German, eighth-graders at Delphi Community Middle School.
That day, Libby and Abby had taken advantage of a day off school and an unseasonably warm, winter afternoon to hike Delphi’s trails, taking off near the Freedom Bridge over Indiana 25/Hoosier Heartland Highway. When the girls didn’t show up that evening to meet their ride home, family and friends combed Delphi’s popular trail system, crossed an abandoned rail trestle called Monon High Bridge and brought in people to walk the woods that lined Deer Creek. The next morning, Feb. 14, 2017, a group of volunteers in a search party found the girls’ bodies, about a half-mile upstream from the Monon High Bridge.
Allen, 50, is a Delphi resident who worked at the town’s CVS store during an investigation that had been going on for more than five years and included posters and flyers with suspect sketches and tip line phone numbers on windows across the community.
Allen’s attorneys have maintained that the charges connecting him to the crimes are weak and point to the wrong person. The judge will consider a motion to set a bond and possibly release Allen during a hearing Feb. 17.
On Friday, Gull covered several matters in the case.
A gag order: McLeland filed a motion in November for a gag order, which would keep Allen, attorneys, Abby and Libby’s families, law enforcement officials, court personnel and the coroner from talking publicly about the case. In it, McLeland wrote “that the media accounts concerning the cause have contained an undue number of statements relating not only to the progress of the investigation, but conclusions of the investigation, some of which have been untrue,” and, “that it is reasonable to believe that the media will continue to cover this cause of action extensively and that the publicity will prejudice a fair trial.”
Gull jumped in with a temporary gag order in December after Rozzi and Baldwin sent out a critique of the probable cause affidavit that had been unsealed days earlier. On Friday, Gull extended that order.
Sharing evidence: Gull held off on ruling on a motion by Rozzi to get the prosecutor to share a raft of information tied to Allen’s case. In a request filed Dec. 30, he asked to get names, address and statements of potential witnesses, including confidential witnesses; statements collected or overheard by investigators from Allen; reports from any expert “test, examination or comparison made in connection with this particular case;” deals offered to potential witnesses for testimony; criminal records of any witnesses; a list of dates and times Allen appeared in lineups or photo arrays presented to witnesses; a written statement from McLeland about whether he has exculpatory or favorable information about Allen; and several pages more.
Gull acknowledged that the case included evidence that was “extraordinarily voluminous.” She said she believed McLeland had been doing well so far to share discovery in the case and encouraged both sides “to continue to work diligently together.” Beyond that, she said she wouldn’t rule on the motion for all the supplemental information Rozzi asked for, at this point.
A trial date: Allen’s initial trial date was set for March 23. Gull said: “I can’t see that happening,” given what she called “thousands and thousands” of pages of evidence collected since Abby and Libby were killed. She said she’d consider a new trial date during the Feb. 17 hearing.
Behind closed doors: After the public part of Friday morning, Gull cleared the courtroom of everyone except Allen’s team to consider a request for public money to hire investigators for the defense. The judge agreed to hear the request privately after Allen’s attorneys argued that the request would give away possible defense strategies.
The families of Abby and Libby filled two rows of seats in a courtroom that had room for about 70 people. They left quietly, given the judge’s order to not comment, as TV cameras assembled near the entrance to the courthouse and YouTubers went live on cell phones to tell about the scene in the courtroom and during Allen’s walk into the courthouse.
Fox 59 reporter Russ McQuaid quoted Baldwin as saying that Allen was “doing not terrifically, but he’s staying mentally tough right now.” Baldwin told reporters that the defense team “will be ready to roll” at the February bond hearing, “asking for him to be released.”
When Allen was initially charged, McLeland said the investigation remained open even after the arrest. At a Nov. 22 hearing to determine whether McLeland’s request to keep the probable cause affidavit under seal, the prosecutor told the court there was reason to believe Allen didn’t act alone.
The unsealed probable cause affidavit, used to arrest and charge Allen, linked him to the crime based on his admission in the days after the murders that he’d been on the Monon High Bridge Trail that day, had clothing that matched images and video of the so-called Bridge Guy captured on Libby’s cellphone and that an unspent bullet found near the girls’ bodies matched a handgun later found at Allen’s Delphi home.
The charging document does not give the manner of their murder.
Here’s a story with links to the probable cause affidavit tied to Allen’s arrest: “Unspent bullet found at Delphi murder scene key to charges, unsealed court doc says.”
Baldwin and Rozzi said publicly, before Gull issued the gag order, that the rationale in the charging document was weak. They asked why the prosecutor would float the notion of other people involved in the murders and then not mention them in Allen’s charges. And they maintained that Allen was adamant he went to police about being on the Monon High Bridge that day because he wanted to be helpful in the investigation.
Here’s a story on the press release from the defense team that led to the temporary gag order: “‘Magic bullet’ not a smoking gun in Delphi murders, attorneys say.”
FOR MORE ON THE INVESTIGATION: The Indiana State Police maintains a site with composite sketches, audio and video files, along with reward information, in the 2017 murders of Abby Williams and Libby German. Go to: www.in.gov/isp/delphi.htm
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