A judge has agreed to move Joshua Keadle’s upcoming murder trial for the 2010 killing of a Peru State College student from Auburn to Beatrice. But not because of pretrial publicity.
In an order Tuesday, District Judge Rick Schreiner said the evidence presented by Keadle’s attorney, Jeff Pickens of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, regarding news coverage wasn’t sufficiently compelling on its own to require a change in venue.
In a written argument on the motion, Pickens pointed to ongoing media coverage since Tyler "Ty” Thomas disappeared early Dec. 3, 2010, while walking back to campus from a party. Her body never was found.
Keadle, 37, quickly was named as a person of interest and was said to have been the last person to see Thomas alive. But prosecutors didn’t charge him until 2017.
As the case neared trial, questionnaires were sent out to prospective Nemaha County jurors.
Pickens said 42% of those who returned them said that they had formed an opinion about the case. Of those, 66% said they either couldn’t set aside their opinion or expressed some uncertainty about whether they could.
At a hearing in July, the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office opposed moving the trial, arguing that a majority of prospective jurors either hadn’t formed an opinion or said they could set aside any opinions and decide the case on the facts presented at trial.
In his written order, the judge said he agreed to move the trial to Gage County because of logistical issues with the facilities, including access to restrooms and private meeting rooms for counsel to talk with Keadle and prosecutors to meet with witnesses.
The courtroom in Beatrice is large enough for jury selection, whereas in Auburn, it would've had to be done in a hall or meeting room elsewhere in town. Holding the three-week trial in Auburn, where county and district court share a single courtroom, also would have prevented county court cases from going forward during the trial.
Schreiner said "transferring venue in this case satisfies the right of the defendant to be tried in the district in which the crime allegedly occurred and is a better use of judicial resources and available facilities within the First Judicial District.”
Nemaha County still will have to pay for the costs, fees and expenses of the trial, just as it would if it were held there. Jurors will be from Gage County.
The trial is set to start Sept. 16.