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Outside jury ordered in homicide trial

March 24, 2011

Lawrence Earl Donachy

RIDGWAY - Elk County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Richard Masson ruled that due to pre-trial publicity, a jury from outside of Elk County will be chosen to hear the murder case against Lawrence Earl Donachy, 36, of St. Marys.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will choose the county in which the jurors are to be summoned from.
Donachy is charged in the April 6, 1999 rape and murder of Irene Challingsworth, a 57-year-old St. Marys beautician, after he allegedly broke into her Walnut Street residence.
He is charged with one count each of criminal homicide, rape, burglary, aggravated assault, criminal attempt at arson and unlawful restraint. Donachy is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institute in Albion.
On March 18 Masson granted the change of venue/venire (a jury pool) as allowed by the discretion of the trial court according to precedent when it "becomes necessary when the trial court concludes that a fair and impartial jury cannot be selected in the county in which the crime occurred."
The defendant must prove that "the publicity is sensational, inflammatory and slanted toward conviction rather than factual objective; the publicity reveals a prior criminal record, if any, refers to confessions, admissions or reenactments of the crime by the accused; or the publicity is derived from police and prosecution reports. In addition, "even where prejudice is inherent, the defendant must show that pretrial publicity was so 'extensive, sustained and pervasive without sufficient time between publication and trial for the prejudice to dissipate, that the community must be deemed to have been saturated.'"
Masson's opinion on the motion stated the publicity took place during two distinct time frames, but that the case also generated considerable publicity in the nine-plus years between the alleged murder and other offenses which occurred in April 1999, until July 2008, when Donachy was charged with the criminal counts.
The second time frame Masson refers to is the initial concentration of articles published in local newspapers from July to September 2008 and a second focus on the case from September to November 2010.
"There was an otherwise ebb and flow of media accounts regarding the homicide after the considerable publicity at and shortly after the occurrence of the crime, but the incident remained in the consciousness of the Elk County community during the intervening nine years," his opinion stated.

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