Larry Woodruffe appeared in court Thursday, requesting a change of venue for his capital murder trial in the shooting death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes.
At Woodruffe's preliminary hearing, his first court appearance on the murder charge, defense attorney Lisa Andrews cited several factors that she said necessitated moving the trial out of Harris County.
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Among them: a slew of online "narratives" offering theories about the shooting, high-ranking police and public officials excoriating her client online and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez eulogizing Jazmine at her funeral.
Andrews described the latter as "posturing that's prohibiting my client from receiving a fair trial." The eulogy was a "heartwarming gesture," she said, but added, "Actions like that don't seem objective."
The social media posts with which she takes issue include a tweet from Houston Police Officers' Union President Joe Gamaldi showing Woodruffe holding a handgun and an assault-style weapon, and another calling Woodruffe a "dirtbag" and gang member. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the police union retweeted the dirtbag post.
Asked if Woodruffe is a gang member, Andrews declined to answer. Asked why she wouldn't address the matter, she told CNN, "Because it's none of your business."
Tom Berg, the first assistant district attorney for Harris County, said that neither Abbott nor the police union are involved in prosecuting the case.
"It's not going to trial tomorrow," he said, and by the time jury selection begins, it's possible potential jurors will remember little or nothing about the case.
"This court has shown an ability to pool a jury and give a fair trial," he said, "so the idea that, at this early stage, that there would be prejudice is just premature."
Attorney: Client didn't pull trigger
Though Woodruffe, 24, was not required to enter a plea, Andrews said her client has not confessed to the shooting and denies being involved.
The only person who has identified Woodruffe as the triggerman "is the person that got charged first," she said, referring to Eric Black Jr.
Police have said Black was driving the car from which Woodruffe fired the fatal bullets.
"People have a big motive to get themselves out of hot water," she said, adding that the gun implicated in Jazmine's shooting was found at Black's home.
Black, 20, who was arrested Saturday, faces the same capital murder charge as Woodruffe for allegedly driving the car, Gonzalez has said. His first court appearance is set for February 15.
Jazmine and her three sisters were still in their pajamas as their family drove to a store for breakfast supplies December 30. A man pulled his vehicle next to their car at around 7 a.m. and opened fire, said Jazmine's mother, LaPorsha Washington.
An anonymous tip led investigators to Black as one of the suspects, according to an affidavit. Black and another person, identified in court as "L.W.," shot at Jazmine's family's vehicle after mistaking it for another one, the tipster told authorities.
Death penalty on table?
Woodruffe's murder charge was announced Tuesday, the same day Jazmine's relatives and hundreds of mourners gathered in a Houston church for her funeral.
"I look forward to the day where I can truly say rest in peace to Jazmine. Justice has been served," Gonzalez told the crowd.
Black was pulled over for failing to use a turn signal Saturday night and was arrested on a marijuana possession charge, authorities said.
During questioning, Black acknowledged he drove the vehicle used in the shooting and said a man in the passenger seat opened fire, according to an affidavit.
Black told police the gun used in the shooting was at his home, the affidavit said. A gun found at his home was consistent with eight shell casings discovered at the scene of the shooting, prosecutors said.
Woodruffe was taken into custody Sunday on a separate drug possession charge.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said she and senior prosecutors will decide later whether to pursue the death penalty.
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