Phelps Moves for Change of Venue

On the same day his co-defendant was sentenced to life in prison without parole, defense attorneys for Brandon Michael Phelps requested a change of venue for his upcoming capital murder trial.

Phelps, 21, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire, is accused of four counts of aggravated murder, committed in the course of rape, of aggravated burglary, of burglary and of trespassing. Each count of murder carries a death penalty specification for his involvement in the June 30, 2012 murder of Lydia Ashworth, 92, of Bellaire.

Public Defender Frank Pierce expressed doubt that Phelps could receive a fair trial before a jury untainted by pre-trial publicity. Jury selection is set to begin March 27 for the March 31 trial.

However, Belmont County Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Fregiato overruled the motion, saying the matter will be considered should the issue arise during jury selection.

Fregiato proposed that as each prospective juror is interviewed, the court will explain that the death penalty is a possible sentence should Phelps be convicted. Fregiato said he expects the process to take slightly longer for each juror, but the overall process should be shorter.

In other matters, Pierce said one of the state’s witnesses has taken a polygraph test and was found to be deceptive on some key questions. Pierce wished to use this as evidence, but Fregiato ruled polygraphs are not admissible unless stipulated by both parties.

Also, Prosecutor Dan Fry said the state intended to order additional DNA testing on hair found at the scene of the crime. Pierce, however, argued the evidence is being introduced too late in the proceedings to be admissible.

Phelps’ co-defendant, Devin Wayne Fuller, 21, 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire, was given a sentence of life without parole for of aggravated murder committed in the course of aggravated burglary, one count of aggravated burglary and one count of burglary on Thursday. Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Solovan was tasked with sentencing Fuller after the jury deadlocked on deciding whether Fuller should be given the death penalty.