Harrison murder trial will start Dec. 1 as scheduled, judge rules

Defense team argued it wasn't ready

gkocher1@herald-leader.comNovember 19, 2011 

CYNTHIANA — A judge said Friday that the murder trial of Bass Webb would start as scheduled Dec. 1, overruling a defense motion to postpone the proceeding to July.

Public defenders Tom Griffiths and Craig Newbern Jr. had argued that they could not be ready in time. But Commonwealth's Attorney Doug Miller said he was prepared to start Dec. 1.

"I'm anxious to get this case before a jury," Miller said.

Webb, 32, is accused of rape and murder in the death of Bryia Runiewicz, 32, on July 31, 2009. If convicted, Webb could face the death penalty.

Griffiths said he has been refused access to Webb in the Grant County jail and that, among other reasons, is why the defense says it is not ready for a December trial. Griffiths said he went to the jail Thursday night but was told he could not see Webb.

Jail officials have resolved the problem so the defense team will have access to Webb. But Newbern said the complexity of the death-penalty case has prevented him and Griffiths from fully investigating any mitigating circumstances.

"We're not happy at all to announce we're not ready to proceed," Newbern said.

But Harrison Circuit Judge Jay Delaney said the trial was postponed once before, and he was not willing to inconvenience witnesses and others by delaying it again.

"I believe the time given was adequate to get done the things that needed to be done," Delaney said.

He also overruled defense motions to hold an evidentiary hearing before trial to determine whether the death penalty is appropriate in Webb's case. In essence, the defense was asking that the judge relieve the jury of any consideration of the death penalty before the case goes to trial.

State law requires an aggravating circumstance — an accompanying crime or circumstance, such as rape — to make a homicide case eligible for the death penalty.

The defense argued that there is no evidence Runiewicz was raped. In another motion, the defense argued that Webb does not have a history of "serious assaultive convictions," as the prosecution contends.

Webb was found guilty in May of two counts of attempted murder for trying to run down a pretrial officer and a deputy sheriff outside the Bourbon County jail in 2009. And he was found guilty in March and sentenced to 15 years in prison for assaulting an officer at the Fayette County Detention Center. But the defense said those are not "prior convictions" because they happened after Runiewicz's death. In addition, they are on appellate review and so are not admissible in the Harrison County case, the public defenders argued.

Miller argued that the defense was "asking to take this matter away from the jury."

Delaney denied the motions because "I don't believe I have the authority" to hold the evidentiary hearings the defense sought.

Webb also is accused of murder in the death of Sabrina Marie Vaughn, who was in her 20s, in Montgomery County. Vaughn's skeletal remains were found in January 2010 on a rural road in Powell County after she had been missing seven years. A Montgomery County grand jury indicted Webb in April 2010.

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