ALGONA - No decision was made during a hearing Tuesday to combine the first-degree murder and robbery trials of Michael Swanson, 17, of St. Louis Park, Minn.
Swanson is currently scheduled to be tried separately in Kossuth County for the death of Vicky Bowman-Hall, of Burt, during an alleged robbery of the Crossroads gas station. He faces another trial in Humboldt County in the death of Sheila Myers, of Humboldt, during an alleged robbery of Kum & Go. Both crimes occurred during the evening of Nov. 15, 2010.
District Court Judge David Lester heard arguments from Swanson's lawyer, Charles Kenville, as well as Kossuth County Attorney Todd Holmes, Iowa Assistant Attorney General Becky Goettsch and Humboldt County Attorney Jennifer Benson.
Swanson was present in the courtroom wearing a striped prison outfit with a bullet-proof vest. He was in handcuffs.
Vicky Bowman-Hall's family was also present for the hearing.
The motion to combine two criminal trials regarding crimes that occurred in two different counties seemed to be uncharted territory as attorney's argued their side and Lester asked questions.
"What authority do I have to reach across judicial district and say I'm taking your case?" Lester asked Kenville. Lester said during his research he wasn't able to determine how he would have that authority.
Kenville said that chief judges have the authority to assign judges to other districts if needed.
"I think that the idea of you reaching into another district for the sake of judicial economy is allowable," Kenville said. He argued the state was losing time and money that could be saved by consolidating the two trials.
Lester then asked how he could make his ruling in one district enforceable in another.
Kenville replied that District Court Judge Thomas Bice, who is appointed to the Swanson trial in Humboldt County, said he intended to abide by Lester's ruling.
Holmes and Goettsch argued, however, that there is no authority for one county to usurp a case from another.
Holmes said he wanted to emphasize a lack of authority in case law that addressed the issue. He said in all the cases on the books severing the cases was the issuing, not consolidation.
"I still don't see the reason the defense so badly wants to consolidate the trials," Goettsch said. "I continue to be concerned about possible prejudice by throwing the two together."
Kenville said he discussed that possibility with Swanson, but Swanson still wanted to combine the trials.
Swanson will be defended under an insanity defense in both trials, Kenville said.
He said it would be better to try the insanity defense once rather than twice in front of a jury.
"I didn't shy away from it in my motion, and I won't shy away from it now," Kenville said. "My duty is to present the best possible defense."
Lester said he would issue a ruling in the near future.
A trial is tentatively set for June 20 in Humboldt County, and a trial in Kossuth County is tentatively scheduled for July 27.
Swanson faces up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.
Contact Lindsey Mutchler at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org