BLACKFOOT — One day after Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland announced his retirement through his new defense attorney, a new trial date has been set.
During a zoom hearing Tuesday morning, defense attorney Dennis Wilkinson, prosecuting attorney Jeff Nye and District Judge Stephen Dunn settled on a trial for the week of Oct. 24.
Rowland faces a felony charge of aggravated assault and a misdemeanor for the exhibition of a weapon after allegedly pointing a pistol at a vehicle carrying seven youth group members from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has also been charged with aggravated battery for allegedly pulling the driver of the vehicle, and the group’s adult chaperone, from the car by the hair and holding a gun to their head.
Rowland had been represented until recently by attorney Justin Olesen. But Olesen filed a motion for withdrawal, citing a “breakdown in communication between counsel and defendant.”
Wilkinson was named the new defense attorney Monday. Along with the announcement came a letter of resignation from Rowland, who said he had become a “distraction” for the county.
The trial, which had been scheduled to begin Monday, was rescheduled during Tuesday’s zoom hearing.
According to the new schedule set by Dunn, jury selection will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 25.
A pool of 80 prospective jurors will be brought in for the selection process.
Should jury selection be completed quickly, Nye asked Dunn if the trial would begin that afternoon or be recessed until the following morning.
Dunn stated he does not like unnecessary breaks and would begin the trial Tuesday if jury selection is done in a reasonable amount of time. The jury, including one alternate, would be given its instruction that day. Given enough time, Dunn added, he would allow both prosecution and defense to present their opening statements and “even start witnesses, if that’s possible.”
“Typically, I can pick a jury, using my method, in no more than three hours,” he said.
“The only issue is going to be whether or not too many people have heard about the case,” Dunn added.
Dunn expects the trial, following jury selection, to take just three days rather than the five Olesen had requested. He asked both attorneys if they believed that to be the case.
“I don’t think there’s a great deal of witnesses — I don’t intend on calling 88 sheriffs or anything like that,” Wilkinson said, referencing Olesen’s plan to call 46 Idaho sheriffs — two retired along with all 44 active — as witnesses.
“I am confident that could happen, judge,” Nye added. “Dennis and I have worked together before, I think it will go pretty smooth, and I think we could get through in three days.”
Dunn stated his interest in completing the process quickly, given the fact that six of the victims and potential witnesses will now be saddled with this trial during their school year.
“I am anxious to have this case tried as soon as possible, and that’s been my intent from the beginning,” Dunn said. “I really did want and tried everything I could to avoid having this case tried during the school year.”
Due to scheduling conflict, though, the late-October was the soonest both attorneys, the judge and all victims would be available.