Future court hearings including a possible trial date in the case of Ely R. Serna were discussed Wednesday during a motions hearing.
Serna, 18, is facing 13 charges stemming from a Jan. 20, 2017, shooting at West Liberty-Salem High School.
While Wednesday’s hearing was scheduled to be on a motion to suppress and a motion for dismissal, the proceedings on the suppression motion were postponed until Feb. 13.
In addition to this hearing, the court scheduled Serna’s trial to begin on April 10.
Motion to suppress
The motion to suppress was previously filed Serna’s attorney Dennis Lieberman.
The motion seeks to suppress statements and evidence from Serna’s interrogation with law enforcement following the shooting. Lieberman stated in the motion that Serna’s Miranda rights were not knowingly and voluntarily waived by Serna and requested the court suppress any and all evidence “which is the fruit of the illegal interrogation.”
Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi filed a motion seeking to continue Wednesday’s hearing on Dec. 26, 2017.
Within this motion, Talebi stated on Dec. 22, 2017, Lieberman verbally informed the state his expert witness had completed an analysis of Serna’s competency at the time he was taken into custody and interviewed by law enforcement.
Talebi stated it was the state’s understanding that Lieberman intended to call an expert witness to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.
“It is also the state’s understanding that the defendant’s motion to suppress is based primarily upon the the expert’s opinion as it relates to the defendant’s competency at the time he was interviewed by law enforcement,” Talebi stated. “(Lieberman) indicated that a written report would be provided to the State of Ohio. However, the State of Ohio is still not in receipt of any written report from the defendant’s expert witness.”
Talebi continued by stating the state could not be adequately be prepared for Wednesday’s suppression hearing without receiving an advance copy of the witnesses’ written opinion. Additionally, he noted the state will need time to review the opinion and meet with the state’s own expert witness in order to discuss the merits of the written opinion.
In a journal entry filed on Dec. 28, 2017, the court granted the state’s motion for continuance of the suppression hearing in part meaning testimony would not be taken during Wednesday’s hearing.
When discussed Wednesday, Judge Nick Selvaggio asked Lieberman why the report was not given to Talebi three weeks before the hearing date.
Lieberman explained Dr. Daniel Davis is the expert who was retained to examine the issue of whether Serna was able to understand and waive his Miranda rights during the interview with law enforcement. Lieberman said Davis had an emergency health issue delaying when the report would be completed.
Selvaggio also asked Talebi why he did not raise the issue of not receiving the report. Talebi said in hindsight he should have done this.
“I would tell the court that (Lieberman) and I were speaking both in early December and late November and the state was left with the impression that there was a good possibility that (Lieberman) may be withdrawing its motion to suppress,” Talebi said.
After discussing how long it would take to present testimony, the hearing on the suppression motion was scheduled for Feb. 13.
As the parties transitioned to scheduling a trial date, Lieberman said the defense at this time is “highly probably” going to waive a jury and try the case to the court. He added he had preliminary discussions with Serna about waiving a jury trial but said he was not prepared to do that today.
Selvaggio said a concern he has is managing a potential jury pool.
“I would imagine with a case of this notoriety that we would have to bring in hundreds to get through pretrial publicity issues as well as jurors who may have children or relatives of children that go there,” Selvaggio said. “I need to start allocating some resources to get through that process and while I’m not trying to force a quick decision, I’m trying to let you know that there’s going to be some planning that needs to be involved if this case does go to jury trial as opposed to court trial.”
After discussion of when the parties were available, Selvaggio said the trial will start on April 10 and is planned to run through April 20.
Following this decision, Serna agreed to waive his right to a speedy trial.
Motion to dismiss
The motion to dismiss previously filed by Lieberman sought to dismiss and transfer the case back to the juvenile division of the Champaign County Common Pleas Court. Within that motion, Lieberman asked the court to dismiss the case due to a lack of jurisdiction and transfer the case to the juvenile division for further proceedings.
This motion was denied by the court Wednesday with Selvaggio stating the adult court cannot make any determination on bindover and the general division lacks jurisdiction to review a bindover error.
Another motion discussed during the hearing was a motion filed by Lieberman seeking to allow Serna to appear in civilian clothes without restraints in all in court proceedings. Serna appeared in court Wednesday in jail clothing from the Tri-County Regional Jail.
Lieberman contended in court that due to the publicity the case will receive it could impact a potential jury if a jury trial takes place and Serna’s ability to receive a fair and impartial trial.
The court ruled Serna would appear in jail clothing for pretrial proceedings in the case while recognizing his right to appear in civilian clothing at trial. The court also recognized Serna’s right to be without restraints and restraints around his feet were removed during the hearing.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.