Five people charged in beating death of Hannibal man plead not guilty; change of venue granted for two as attorney says matter is ‘racially charged’
HANNIBAL, Mo. — Five people facing first-degree assault and second-degree murder charges in connection to the death of a Hannibal man on Oct. 9 have pleaded not guilty.
Tiara Bonner, Jason Anderson, Jordan Payne, Thomas Payne and Kaelin Rickey all made appearances by video from the Marion County Jail during their arraignment before Judge Rachel Bringer-Shepherd Friday morning in Marion County Circuit Court.
A probable cause statement from the Hannibal Police Department Police indicated officers reported around 1:50 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, to investigate an assault outside Rumor Has It Bar and Grill, 125 N. Main. Upon arrival, officers found Dusty Wilson, 49, of Hannibal, on Main Street with substantial head trauma. Wilson was transported to Hannibal Regional Hospital and later to a trauma center in Columbia, Mo., where he died from his injuries.
Bringer-Shepherd on Friday granted change of venue requests for Rickey and Thomas Payne. Their cases now will be heard in Boone County, where Columbia is the county seat. Clayton attorney James Ochs, representing Anderson, and public defender Austin Smith, representing Bonner, both said Friday they will apply for changes of venue of well.
Columbia attorney Matthew Perry, representing Thomas Payne, filed a motion on Thursday, Dec. 1 for a change of venue. He referred to a Missouri Supreme Court rule that says “a change of venue shall be ordered in any criminal proceeding triable by a jury pending in a county having 75,000 or fewer inhabitants upon the filing of a written application therefor by the defendant.”
Marion County has a population of 25,119.
Perry also noted racial disparity considerations in his motion. He said testimony given at a preliminary hearing on Tuesday stated that Wilson, the alleged victim, was yelling “ni**er.” He noted Wilson was white, and his defendant is black.
“Given the racial aspects of this case, the defendant requests this matter be transferred to a more diverse venue which is more representative of the demographics of the state of Missouri as a whole,” Perry said.
He said Marion County has a diversity index of 23.1 percent. The state has a diversity index of 40.8 percent. He said the three counties closest to Marion County and closest to the state of Missouri diversity index were St. Louis County (54.8 percent), Boone County (42 percent) and Cole County (35.3).
Perry believes significant media attention on the case is tainting the jury pool of the 10th Judicial Circuit (Marion, Monroe and Ralls counties), 12th Judicial Circuit (Audrain, Montgomery and Warren counties) and 45th Judicial Circuit (Lincoln and Pike counties).
Perry also noted other “racially charged media-covered events” occurring in Marion County. He referred to the story about Kelsey Whitley, the principal at Eugene Field Elementary School in Hannibal. She allegedly posted a photo on social media that many people in Hannibal considered racist.
“My suggestion would be that we try to get away from that,” he said.
Perry also said Wilson was very involved at the Big Bear Ballpark, the site of many baseball and softball tournaments in Hannibal. He believes a significant portion of the population in the 10th, 12th and 45th judicial circuits would have interacted with Wilson.
“(Columbia) is only 99 miles away, and … it’s far enough away where we get out from some of these biases that might have been created by knowing the victim or possibly getting lumped in with a bunch of other racially charged events,” he said.
Luke Bryant, prosecuting attorney for Marion County, did not object when Perry suggested to Bringer-Shepherd to move the case to Boone County.
“Change of venue, if timely filed, is a matter of right,” Bryant said after the hearing. “They have a right to a change of venue. They’ve exercised that right.”
St. Louis attorney Matthew Radefeld, who represents Rickey, said he also filed a motion on Wednesday, Nov. 30 for a change of venue.
All other legal proceedings for the cases will remain in Marion County.
Bringer-Shepherd scheduled bond reduction motions for the Rickey and the Payne brothers for Dec. 9. She also scheduled case management reviews for all five defendants for Feb. 3.
Each of the five defendants face 10 to 30 years or a life sentence if found guilty on either charge. Both are Class A felonies. They would have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.
Absent from Friday’s arraignments was Catherine Dierker from the Missouri Attorney General’s office. She sat next to Bryant during Tuesday’s preliminary hearings.
Bryant said he requested assistance from the Missouri governor’s office to assist in the prosecution of all five cases.
“Since they’re domiciled in Jefferson City, I told them I’d handle the arraignments on my own so they’re not driving 100-plus miles for simple court tasks,” he said.
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