No venue change for slashing trial
A motion to move the criminal case of Steve Wasserman out of El Dorado County was struck down by a judge earlier this week.
On Monday, Presiding Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury denied the motion submitted by attorney Lori London to move the case. The ruling ensures, at this time, that Wasserman’s March 7 trial will be held in South Lake Tahoe.
Wasserman is accused of repeatedly slashing his ex-girlfriend, Susan Rizk, with a 2-foot-long sword in late October as the 4-year-old daughter of the two looked on. Rizk survived but was hospitalized for nearly two months undergoing five surgeries.
London said Wednesday that since the motion was denied “without prejudice” she can resubmit it at a later date. She specifically mentioned gauging the jury panel’s knowledge of the case and whether the panel can provide a fair trial in reconsidering another motion.
Asked whether she believes the trial would take place March 7 and not be continued, London said: “Yeah, I do.”
In her motion dated Jan. 10, London touched upon the need to change locations because of the seriousness of the offense, type of media coverage, community size where the crime occurred, the status of Wasserman in the community and the popularity and prominence of Rizk.
London wrote “without question” the crimes were “serious in the extreme.”
Regarding media coverage, London wrote: “A reasonable likelihood of unfairness may exist even though the news coverage was neither inflammatory or productive of overt hostility. When a spectacular crime has aroused community attention and a suspect has been arrested, the possibility of an unfair trial may originate in widespread publicity describing facts, statements and circumstances which tend to create a belief in his guilt.”
From Oct. 25 to Dec. 30, London stated there were 19 published articles naming Rizk, Wasserman, details of the event or a combination of the three.
London then mentioned the size of El Dorado County. Specifically, how it ranks 30th out of 58 counties with its population of 163,600 and how the jury pool at Lake Tahoe is less than 26,000.
The motion continued, touching upon Rizk and the community support behind the single mother of two.
“Until recently the victim had no particular notoriety in the community,” the motion stated. “However, with the publicity that this offense has generated, the victim has gained a certain notoriety and sympathy within the community.”
In a Jan. 25 response, Deputy District Attorney Tony Sears disputed London’s claims.
“Sympathy for a victim does not invariably demonstrate antipathy for the defendant,” he wrote.
Sears continued: “There is every reason to believe some of the percentage of the population will remember the defense’s name and something relating to the current charges. But this fact does not mandate a change of venue.”
Wasserman is being held at El Dorado County Jail at $10 million bail. He was not in court Monday. On Jan. 19, he was given a psychological evaluation on the West Slope by Daniel Edwards, who is the mental evaluator for the defense. Around the same time, he was evaluated by Craig Rath, the doctor tapped by the prosecution.
He is charged with three special allegation felonies – attempted murder, aggravated mayhem and residential burglary – and two misdemeanors of endangering a child and violating a restraining order.
He has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. If found guilty of the crimes, a hearing will determine whether he was insane at the time.
The maximum sentence for all of the felonies is life in prison.
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