RENSSELAER, Ind. (WLFI) — A judge is now deliberating where or when the trial will happen for a high-profile Jasper County death case.
Joseph Bland, 44 of Terre Haute, is facing a charge of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death. Forty-year-old Melissa Deno died when prosecutors say Bland ran over her car with his semi in Oct. 2018.
A memorial to Melissa Deno at State Road 16 and U.S. 231
Bland appeared in court Tuesday morning hoping to change the venue of his trial. Bland believes he will be unable to get a fair trial in Jasper County because of public hostility and outrage over the offense.
The judge has not yet made a decision on if the venue will be changed. News 18 was told there will not be an additional hearing over the change of venue request, but the judge's decision will be sent out. We do not have an expected date of when.
Friends of the Deno family don’t think the location of the trial should be moved.
"It happened here, he did the crime here, he should do the time," said Irma Hayes, friend of Melissa Deno. "The family deserves justice. They don't get to run like he did."
Tuesday in court, the defense argued recent actions by Deno’s family, including social media posts and signs displayed on common roadways.
The intersection where the crash happened, at State Road 16 and U.S. 231 in Rensselaer, has been an area for the Deno family to honor Melissa. Since her death, the corner is decorated with pictures, flowers and signs. The defense argued the area could result in prejudice against Bland.
In response to the argument, the judge said, “Free speech is a right, and it’s also a consequence.”
The state said, "Just having knowledge of the case does not equate to prejudice."
Another argument presented was an alleged video of the surveillance footage of the crash posted to YouTube. Filings said the defense believed the video was uploaded by the Deno family. News 18 learned in court on Tuesday the video was posted by an employee at Rose Acre Farms. Rose Acre Farms is the source of the video, as the business is near the intersection where the crash happened.
News 18 also learned the employee who posted the video is a witness in this case.
The defense argued the video could tamper the jury pool. However, the video will be included in the state's evidence once the trial begins.
Bland's fiance, Jeanne Penell, took the stand to explain her side of the story since the crash. She does not believe Bland will receive a fair trial in Jasper County.
Penell argued the posts on the 'Justice for Missy' Facebook page could sway the opinions of others in the case. As she took the stand she said, "Any information they can put out there they post to help their narrative."
Penell emphasized an online scheduled event of Bland's trial, which invited hundreds of people to attend. She also expressed her concern on a post counting down the days until his trial.
The state asked Penell how a post counting down to a jury date would affect anybody. She replied, "I don't know."
Penell went on to claim she and her family have been threatened since the crash. Penell explained she, along with her children and Bland, had to deactivate social media accounts due to threatening messages from strangers.
"We can't just walk out of this courthouse like normal people," she said.
Bland’s trial was set to begin Jan. 14, but has officially been postponed.
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