Judge approves change of venue in Broitzman trial

Published 2:22 pm Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Freeborn County District Court Judge Steve Schwab has granted a change of venue in the upcoming Brianna Broitzman jury trial.

In a written order dated Tuesday, Schwab asked that the trial venue be changed to either Olmsted, Rice, Wabasha or Winona County as soon as possible.

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for July 9, though the date of the trial has not been confirmed.

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“It is undisputed that there has been continuous and detailed coverage of every stage of the allegations, investigations and court proceedings,” Schwab wrote. “The court is convinced that Freeborn County has been inundated with information regarding this case. The court is also convinced that a substantial portion of the community has formed an opinion in regards to the charges in this case.”

Broitzman, 21, is one of six young women who faces charges of abuse of residents at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea from January through May 2008. She and co-defendant Ashton Michelle Larson have been charged as adults, while the other four have been charged as juveniles because they were under 18 at the time of the alleged abuse.

Schwab said since news of the story broke, the Albert Lea Tribune has published over 50 front-page stories related to the case.

“The publication has been continuous and repetitive, updating readers of every development and stage in the proceedings,” he said in the written order.

Many of the comments posted after the stories online “expressed opinion as to the defendant’s guilt or innocence (most being the former) and contain highly prejudicial statements regarding Defendant’s alleged actions, her character, her family, her attorney and the recommended punishment.”

He attached some examples of articles and comments, noting that the Tribune’s readership area encompasses Freeborn County, as well as parts of Iowa and surrounding Minnesota counties.

“The dissemination of prejudicial material has made it reasonably likely that the defendant cannot receive a fair trial in this case in Freeborn County, as well as in the immediate surrounding counties of Faribault, Waseca, Steele or Mower,” he continued.

He said the articles focused primarily on Broitzman and Larson and generally repeated all of the allegations against the two young women.

“There was a tendency to imply that Broitzman and Larson were responsible, in part, for all of those alleged acts, including those committed by other employees,” Schwab continued. “There is little doubt that defendant Broitzman has been the lightning rod for the outrage generated in this case.”

He said he has also experienced first hand the public’s knowledge of this case during jury selection in other recent unrelated criminal cases.

Schwab’s decision comes after Broitzman’s lawyer, Larry Maus, made the request last Thursday. During the motion hearing, Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson said he was neutral on the matter, noting that he would leave it up to the court’s discretion.

He did, however, argue that if the change of venue motion was approved, it would be an inconvenience for all of his witnesses. It would also be an expense to the state. He agreed that the publicity on Broitzman’s charges has been constant and repetitive.