Groves defense says media tainted jury pool
LOCK HAVEN — Attorneys for Loyd Groves, formerly of Lock Haven, have 10 days to send Lycoming County Senior Judge Kenneth Brown proof that media coverage in high profile criminal cases leads to tainting a jury pool.
Groves, 69, is accused of killing Mill Hall resident Katherine Heckel in 1991 and disposing of her body so that it would never be found.
The latest development in the case comes after the defense team, led by attorney David Lindsay, filed an Aug. 8 motion to dismiss Groves’ charges, or on a lesser note, change the venue of the trial, on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct involving the media.
The evidence Lindsay brought before the court was a June 28 Lock Haven Express article documenting Heckel’s disappearance and the 2015 arrest of Groves for her killing. It also detailed how retired State Trooper Mike Hutson told reporters members of the prosecution would be traveling to Groves’ former property, now owned by Wayne and Cindy Love, on June 26 and the reporters’ observations from the search.
Lindsay argued that the prosecution aimed to taint the jury pool by giving the media the date, time and location of the search.
“This is intentional conduct to taint the jury pool at worst, and grossly negligent conduct at best,” he said.
He called to the witness stand Lock Haven Express Managing Editor Lana Muthler, one of the reporters invited to the search, to describe what she saw, heard and was told by prosecution and law enforcement that day.
Muthler upheld the claim that Hutson approached her and another reporter in the courtroom after ailing prosecution witness Jean Carter testified, letting them know the prosecution would be driving up to the Loves’ house “to look around” and that they could come.
On cross-examination, she told Senior Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye, the lead prosecutor, that she was childhood friends with Cindy Love and spent some time that day chatting with her. She also said she and the other reporter had not seen anything on the Love property purported to be evidence, and that members of the prosecution denied the journalists’ requests to accompany them when they returned to an area where they may have found something.
When Lindsay asked why the June 28 article had not opined on the innocence of Groves, Muthler said, “That’s not our job. We’re reporters. Our job is to write what we saw.”
Dye rebuffed Lindsay’s claims of tainting the jury pool.
“There’s no substantive information in this article,” he said. “There’s no ‘Loyd Groves is guilty’ commentary… it does not say that evidence was found.”
“The idea that this was intentional is mind-blowing,” he said.
In fact, he said, jury selection gives the court a clear way to deal with possible tainting by the media. He also said there are many unintentional things that happen over the course of a case that could lead to jury pool tainting.
As an example, Dye mentioned that Groves’ attorney George Lepley breached proper conduct by talking to reporter John Beauge on the eve of jury selection. According to the article, Lepley said his client was offered a plea bargain to confess where Heckel’s body was, but Groves “responded he could not tell them something he does not know.” He also told Beauge the defense’s planned argument.
Judge Brown said he did not think dismissing the charges against Groves was appropriate in this case. However, “we’ve got to look at the effect (of media coverage) on jury selection,” he said.
Once Lindsay submits case citations on how publicity affects jury selection, Dye and his team will have 10 days to respond to the argument.
Groves has remained in the Clinton County Correctional Facility since his arrest. His wife Katherine filed for divorce in 2016 and her unexpected interview with state police in June caused the trial’s most recent delay.