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McBeath retrial moves to Bourbon

GEORGETOWN — A Scott County circuit judge granted a change of venue motion Friday afternoon, moving to Bourbon County the retrial of a man charged with murder in the January 2004 death of his pregnant girlfriend.

Before making the ruling, Circuit Judge Robert Johnson said that he was a little concerned about moving Roger McBeath Jr.'s case, but that he thought it was necessary because of the media attention surrounding McBeath and his co-defendants. Johnson said the trial should be held in an adjacent county within the same circuit. The trial is still scheduled for July 13 to 22.

Relatives of Ashley Lyons, the 18-year-old pregnant woman who was found shot to death in her car in a Scott County park five years ago, listened carefully for several hours during the hearing Friday.

Lyons' mother, Carol Lyons, took notes.

"We're not excited about it," Lyons said after the hearing.

She said the change of venue is inconvenient, especially with the high cost of gas. But the family would "follow it wherever."

Lyons said she was not surprised by the judge's ruling.

McBeath's case has grabbed many headlines and been the focus of many TV newscasts since he was convicted in Lyons' slaying in October 2004.

The case resurfaced in the news in December 2007 when the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned the conviction because a jail informant overstepped his bounds by questioning McBeath in jail about the shooting, and the defense was not allowed to question the accuser.

Johnson pointed out that because of the news coverage, McBeath was well-known, and so were his co-defendants. The other defendants in the case:

■ Dena Williams, who had dated McBeath, pleaded guilty to complicity to murder for helping to carry out the plot to kill Lyons.

■ Her twin brother, Thomas Williams, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, saying he supplied the firearm to McBeath.

■ Their father, Nevel Williams, pleaded guilty to asking or suggesting that a witness in the case change his testimony during the trial.

During Friday's hearing, Mykol Hamilton, a Centre College professor of psychology, testified that based on telephone surveys of 401 Scott County residents, a very large portion of the community thinks McBeath was guilty.

She said 90 percent of people questioned were familiar with the case, and 49 percent said they thought McBeath was definitely or probably guilty. Nineteen percent said they were leaning toward guilt.

Many of the people questioned were aware that someone had been convicted previously in the case.

"It probably contributed to the high numbers believing guilt," Hamilton said.

Defense attorney Melanie Lowe noted that the trial originally was held in Woodford County following an agreement with prosecutors. She said publicity had not died since then, and suggested the case be moved to an area not served by the Lexington television news market.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Lee Greenup suggested that lawyers try to seat a jury in the case, then review the issue later if there were problems.