DRIGGS — An Idaho district judge has ordered that the first murder case in Teton County in more than 20 years be tried in Bingham County to ensure a fair trial.
Erik Ohlson, 40, faces the death penalty on charges that he shot and killed a Driggs resident Jennifer Nalley and her unborn child last summer.
In the order moving the trial, Judge Bruce Pickett laid out his reasoning, citing “extensive pretrial publicity covering the Defendant’s confession, the small size of Teton County, the number of Teton County residents involved in the case and/or affiliated with Jennifer Nalley” and the fact that both the state and the defendant did not object to a move.
He also laid out a case for choosing Bingham County.
Pickett wrote in his conclusion that it has a much larger population of 45,269, is one of the furthest counties from Teton County in the district, and although there are similar press agencies in Bingham County, “there is no evidence that an impartial trial could not be held there.”
Pickett’s analysis mentioned the press coverage of the case in Teton County, specifically coverage of his order suppressing Ohlson’s confession to police.
“News of the defendant’s confession saturated local headlines,” Pickett wrote, “and included details of defendant’s interrogation with law enforcement and the court’s reasoning behind the suppression.”
The Teton Valley News was one of several outlets that covered the suppression on April 5, with the headline “Court suppresses Ohlson’s murder confession to police.”
Ohlson’s attorney, Jim Archibald, made much of the coverage in his argument to change venue heard last month.
“It is difficult for the public to unremember things,” he said. “Everyone I have talked to says, ‘Oh, that’s the dude that confessed.’”
Pickett cited legal precedent showing that there only had to be a good chance the jury pool was prejudiced to change venue.
“Prejudice seldom can be established or disproved with certainty,” Pickett wrote, citing the Idaho case State vs. Hadden. “It is sufficient for the accused to show there was a reasonable likelihood prejudicial news coverage prevented a fair trial.”
Pickett ordered that Ohlson stay in the care of Teton County except for the actual trial and that Teton County would remain the venue for pretrial proceedings. Ohlson is currently in custody at Madison County Jail, since Teton County does not have a jail facility.
A date for the trial has not yet been set.
This article first appeared in the Teton Valley News. It is used here with permission.