Attorneys for the gunman accused of opening fire in Richland’s Fred Meyer are asking to move his trial out of Benton County and across the state.
At the same time, prosecutors are looking for a second opinion after their former experts found Aaron C. Kelly, 41, didn’t understand the consequences of his actions.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys will argue both motions in front of a judge on Friday.
Kelly, 41, is charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in connection with Feb. 7, 2022, shooting.
Kelly was arrested about 11 hours later while driving on Interstate 90 near Sprague, southwest of Spokane in Eastern Washington.
His trial is currently scheduled for Oct. 2.
The response across the Mid-Columbia to the shooting was quick, drawing officers from as far away as Oregon to help track down the gunman. It attracted attention from national news outlets.
The media attention on the case is a key reasons why attorney Karla Kane is looking to move the trial, according to her recently filed motion.
She said in a previous court hearing they would like to move the case to King County.
Kane pointed out a Richland police Facebook post on the day of the incident had 414 comments and 1,600 shares with comments calling Kelly a “murderer” and that they were “glad you have that lunatic in custody.”
The crime and court proceedings have received extensive coverage. Kane pointed to what she called an inflammatory KNDU headline about his roommate’s “year of terror” with Kelly.
She said the 1-year anniversary gathering at the Fred Meyer store along with a memorial placed there, also have kept the shooting in people’s minds.
“(It) will be very difficult, if not impossible to located jury members that were not affected in some way or other,” Kane wrote. “They were either shopping at the store when it occurred, are a regular shopper of the Fred Meyer, know someone that was present at the store, had a child in a school that was placed on lockdown due to the event. The way this event touched so many members of our community is endless.”
Prosecutor Eric Eisinger said he plans to argue to keep the case in Benton County. He hadn’t filed a response by Thursday morning in the case.
Another sanity evaluation
Prosecutors are looking to get a second opinion about Kelly’s sanity when the shooting happened.
That follows a previous examination by state psychologists Richard Yocum and Jessica Hart that concluded Kelly didn’t understand that he was committing a crime.
Kelly’s mental health has been at the center of many of the proceedings since his arrest.
He’s been treated at Eastern State Hospital for what was diagnosed as schizophrenia. He argued about whether he would take his medication to treat his mental illness.
A defense psychologist said in previous hearing that Kelly believed an “entity” was influencing events around him. Kelly’s delusions extended to thinking that this group of intelligence agencies fabricated the shooting.
He was prescribed medication to treat the condition, and was required to take it.
After a judge ruled he was competent to stand trial, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
After the plea, Yocum and Hart were enlisted by the prosecutors to examine Kelly and found he was not sane at the time of the shooting.
Eisinger said he has another expert, Wendi Wachsmuth, who disagrees with Yocum and Hart, based on a review of police reports and the evaluations.
“Wachsmuth’s preliminary review is critical of how the prior evaluations were conducted and the conclusion reached,” Eisinger said.
To accomplish that, Wachsmuth wanted to interview Kelly directly to “develop a fully formed opinion, write a written report and testify.”
Kane has argued in a recent hearing that they shouldn’t be required to have Kelly sit through another interview, after the prosecutor’s previous experts already said he was insane at the time of the shooting.
But Eisinger is arguing that there is a lengthy history of allowing prosecutors time to pick their expert.
He noted that Kelly conducted numerous online searches after the shooting at the store about whether Mexico extradites suspects, withdrew money from a bank in Walla Walla and traveled on “secondary highways” as he headed to Idaho.
“Based on her initial review, Dr. Wachsmuth believes there are other explanations that were not considered in the mental state evaluations,” Eisinger wrote. “Although the state has the right to call Dr. Wachsmuth in any event, limiting her testimony to a review of the records and prior evaluations unreasonably limits her testimony.”
The defense attorneys haven’t filed their written response to the motion by Thursday morning, but said they plan to before Friday’s hearing.