Change of venue requested in high-profile Jasper County case

A memorial to Melissa Deno at State Road 16 and U.S. 231

Joseph Bland believes he will be unable to get a fair trial because of public hostility and outrage over the offense.

Posted: Jan 1, 2020 11:01 AM

RENSSELAER, Ind. (WLFI) — A change of venue has been requested in a high-profile Jasper County death case about to go to trial.

Joseph Bland believes he will be unable to get a fair trial in Jasper County. The 44-year-old Terre Haute native is facing a charge of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death for the Oct. 10, 2018 crash. Prosecutors allege Bland did not stop after his semi  drove over a car, killing 40-year-old Melissa Deno of Rensselaer. 


Joseph Bland, Courtesy of Jasper County Jail

Related: Family members of fatal hit-and-run victim left with questions

Related: Melissa Deno's family speaks out 1 year after fatal crash

According to court documents filed Monday, Bland said he won't get a fair trial because of public hostility and outrage over the offense. He claims there has been prejudicial-news reporting which "castigates the defendant and gives inaccurate information."

Bland is also concerned about recent actions by Deno's family. Court documents said the family created an event on social media for the scheduled Jan. 14 jury trial, and invited hundreds of people to attend. A majority of those invited, according to court documents, live in Jasper County. 

The defense is also concerned a video posted online could tamper the jury pool. The filing said Deno's family put surveillance video of the crash, which is included in the state's evidence, on YouTube, and has shared it on social media. 

Online records show the matter will be discussed at a hearing scheduled for Jan. 7, exactly one week before the trial is currently scheduled to begin. 

News 18 reached out to Bland's attorney. A response has not yet been received. 

According to a probable cause affidavit, on Oct. 10, 2018 a witness saw Deno's car hit and drive under a semi at the intersection of State Road 16 and U.S. 231 in Rensselaer. The witness said he tried to flag down the tractor driver. He then explained the semi appeared to slow to a stop after the crash, but then kept driving. Deno died at the scene.

The crash was filmed on surveillance cameras from Rose Acre Farms, located on the northeast side of the intersection. According to court documents, the video shows the semi driving on State Road 16 and approaching the US 231 intersection. The semi then begins to slow down, but does not make a complete stop at the intersection. Documents state that the car passed completely through the underside of the trailer.

After a statewide search for the semi, Bland was identified by his trucking company. The semi was found just two days after the crash in East St. Louis.

The Jasper County Sheriff's Office had originally sought a charge of reckless homicide, however it was reduced by then-county prosecutor Christine Bogan. Bogan resigned on Nov. 30, 2018 prior to the end of her term. Current prosecutor Jacob Taulman has since taken over the case. 

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