Before attorneys laid out their cases in the murder trial of Anthony Gregory Mallory, they first had to deal with where the trial would be held.
A day after a jury was empaneled, defense attorney Kenneth Therrien sought to have the case moved out of Yakima County, citing extensive media coverage of the mistrial that ended Mallory’s first trial earlier this year.
“I think some of those media accounts are inflammatory regarding what was said, recounting witness testimony from their perspective,” Therrien said outside the jury’s presence Friday morning.
But Judge Gayle Harthcock ruled that prior coverage of Mallory’s first trial did not appear to prejudice the jury pool, and rejected Therrien’s request. A four-day jury selection process at the Yakima Valley SunDome removed potential jurors who said they had formed opinions on the case based on the news coverage.
“I cannot make a finding that this has prejudiced Mr. Mallory in any way,” Harthcock said.
Mallory, 21, is charged with second- degree murder in the death of Michael G. Ochoa, who was fatally stabbed outside a home in the 1100 block of MacLaren Street Aug. 21, 2018.
Harthcock declared a mistrial in Mallory’s first trial on March 9 after finding that one of the jurors went to the crime scene and reported his or her observations to the rest of the jury during deliberations, a violation of court orders requiring jurors to only consider evidence presented in court.
Therrien cited multiple newspaper articles on the first trial, the mistrial and the process of setting up the second trial, which he said resulted in having to interview more potential jurors than usual during the selection process. Out of the 111 that were in the pool, Therrien said 25 of them reported reading news accounts of the case.
He also pointed to a guest editorial written by presiding Judge Richard Bartheld and Judge Blaine Gibson that explained how a mistrial works, how much it cost taxpayers, and the inconvenience it created for court staff and witnesses.
Deputy Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Sam Chen disputed the claim that press coverage was “inflammatory,” noting that the articles presented the trial proceedings without any editorializing on the credibility of witnesses or evidence.
“The newspaper is doing its job. It would be normal for them to cover this,” Chen said. “Yes, there was publicity, but that is normal when a homicide is tried in this community.”
Chen said many of the jurors they spoke to about media exposure had it confused with another case, and that there were two or three who were excused from jury duty because they had formed opinions based on the coverage.
During his opening statement, Chen told the jurors that the evidence will show that Mallory attacked Ochoa without provocation as the 55-year-old handyman tried to track down a trailer he lent to a family that was being evicted.
But Therrien told jurors that while Mallory did stab Ochoa, he did it because Ochoa had threatened him and Mallory feared what would happen.
Gregory Ochoa, Ochoa’s father, said it was not unusual for his son to reach out and help strangers. He was with Ochoa when he spotted the people on MacLaren Street piling furniture on their front lawn and offered them his trailer.
Regina Christenberry, Ochoa’s girlfriend and co-worker, told jurors they were in the neighborhood around 5 p.m. Aug. 21, 2018, looking for the people to whom Ochoa lent the trailer. He was writing his personal number on business cards to leave at the house and with neighbors when Mallory came up to him, and told him he was “dumb” for lending them the trailer.
But Ochoa, whom Christenberry said had a bipolar disorder, did not seem fazed by the remark, as he just shrugged his shoulders and went back to writing on the cards. Mallory, she said, appeared to walk away, but then stabbed Ochoa in the right side of the neck.
“(Ochoa) looked at me and said, ‘Babe, he stabbed me,’ and he collapsed,” Christenberry said.
Christenberry also said Ochoa was an insulin-dependent diabetic who had open-heart surgery three years earlier and was battling lung cancer.