Fearing bias, Douglas Haig is pulling no punches in his fight for a fair trial.
The Arizona man who sold ammunition to the Route 91 Harvest festival gunman now wants to face a jury in Reno instead of Las Vegas, according to a Thursday court filing. Haig is accused of selling reloaded rounds to the gunman ahead of the Oct. 1, 2017, attack, and he faces one count of manufacturing ammunition without a license.
Haig previously wanted to avoid a jury, requesting a bench trial in which a judge alone determines guilt and sets a sentence. But U.S. District Judge James Mahan on Wednesday denied that request.
Instead, Mahan proposed that potential jurors be asked a set of questions about whether they attended Route 91 or knew anyone who did, and whether they could be fair and impartial in a case in which the defendant manufactured some or all of the ammunition that the gunman used that night.
Haig’s attorney and federal prosecutors agreed to the idea, but the language of those questions had not been agreed upon and finalized as of Friday.
The Reno request is possible because Nevada encompasses a single federal judicial district. Haig previously asked that his case be transferred to the District of Arizona, centered in the Phoenix area where he lives, but that also was denied.
In the latest request, Haig’s attorney argued that even those who did not attend Route 91 and did not know anyone who did may still have been affected by the massacre, which left 58 dead and hundreds more wounded.
“First responders were impacted, but did not attend,” the filing reads. “Casino workers were impacted, but did not attend. Medical personal at valley hospitals were impacted, but did not attend. The coroner was impacted, but did not attend.
“The government is not interested in ensuring that Mr. Haig has a fair and impartial jury,” the filing continues, “in fact, quite the opposite — it is banking on the bias.”
As of Friday, federal prosecutors had not responded to the request. But in court Wednesday, when Haig’s attorney floated moving the trial to Reno, Mahan said he would “prefer to keep it in this community.”
Haig’s request is not the first time a defendant in Las Vegas has asked for a Reno trial.
The week of the Route 91 attack, U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro postponed arguments in the sprawling Bundy case so that jurors and local legal teams could grieve. At the time, Ammon Bundy’s attorney — also fearing bias — asked that his case be moved to Reno, because his client was facing accusations that he threatened federal officers at a suddenly sensitive time for the community, namely jurors.
Navarro denied his request, pointing out that Stephen Paddock, the Route 91 gunman, owned a home in Reno and that Northern Nevada residents also held vigils for shooting victims.
“It’s not affecting them any less than it’s affecting us,” she said at the time.
Should the Reno request fail, Haig’s attorney also asked that the court pool any future Las Vegas-based jurors from the entire state.
“This would ensure that the jury pool is not solely relegated to those most impacted by Mr. Paddock’s conduct on October 1, 2017,” the filing reads.
No decisions had been issued on the request as of Friday. Haig’s trial is set to start in August.
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