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Attorney may request venue change in death penalty case

An attorney for a McDuffie County man facing the death penalty in a 2004 murder case hinted that he may request a change of venue later this year.

Meanwhile, prosecutors and defense lawyers argued more than two dozen motions in McDuffie County Superior Court on Tuesday in the case of Dannie Lee Samuels, Jr., who is accused in the March 2004 strangulation death of Barbara Hefner.

Among those motions heard Tuesday:

- A defense request to restrict certain words being used in the upcoming trial. Some of those words include murder, rape, not guilty, innocent, innocence, DNA fingerprinting and other scientific DNA evidence.

- A defense request to suppress the use of what was described as "gruesome and highly prejudicial color photographs" of the victim.

- A defense request that Ms. Hefner's family be restricted from showing any emotion in the courtroom during the course of the trial.

"For the victim's family to sit in the courtroom and cry or show other types of emotions during the course of the trial will cause the jury to be sympathetic toward the alleged victim's family in such a manner that it will highly be prejudicial," defense attorneys contended. In addition, it also would deprive Mr. Samuels of a fair and impartial trial.

"All I can tell you is, I'll do my best," said Superior Court Judge Roger Dunaway in regards to assuring there are no emotional outbursts by members of the victim's family during the trial.

- A defense request to allow Mr. Samuels to attend the trial wearing no jail garb and to be free of shackles, handcuffs, etc. while seated at the defense table with his attorneys - awaiting his opportunity for a fair trial.

"The sheriff will no doubt maintain, through his deputies, that the jail uniform and the chains are a requirement of security measures," defense attorneys said. "Yet, the courtroom will be sealed with a number of armed guards encircling the defendant."

Forcing Mr. Samuels to appear in court in jail garb and in chains "is not only beneath the dignity of this honorable court, it is manifestly prejudicial to the rights" of the defendant "to have and receive a fair trial."

"The security needs to be handled by the high sheriff of McDuffie County," Assistant District Attorney Woody Davis said. "This is a capital murder case. This is a dangerous man."

Still, Judge Dunaway assured defense attorneys that their client would not be wearing jail clothing during his trial.

The case marks the first time in more than 25 years that prosecutors have announced their intentions to seek the death penalty against a person accused of murder and assorted violent criminal charges in McDuffie County.

Mr. Samuels was indicted by a McDuffie County grand jury on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated battery, concealing the death of another person and statutory aggravated circumstances on June 12, 2006.

The defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges during an arraignment hearing last June.

Escorted by several deputies with the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department, Mr. Samuels appeared before Judge Dunaway and members of Ms. Hefner's family clad in an orange jumpsuit, standard clothing for inmates in McDuffie County. Mr. Samuels stayed seated during the entire hearing with his lawyers at the defense table. He stared straight ahead.

Ms. Hefner was slain inside her home off Whiteoak Road, near Thomson, between the hours of 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 5 and 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 6, according to a March 19, 2004, affidavit by Sheriff Marshall.

A trial date has not been scheduled, but the next hearing isn't slated until November 5-9. Lengthy motions are expected to be argued then by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Defense attorneys, Michael C. Garrett, of Augusta and William McGuire, of Atlanta, said some of the motions at that time would deal with dismissing statements reportedly made by their client, as well as a possible motion for change of venue in the case. Other motions would deal specifically with evidence and discovery.

Web posted on Thursday, July 12, 2007

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