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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A former University of Iowa student charged with killing his parents and sister last year in Cedar Rapids asked a judge Tuesday to move his trial out of Linn County because media coverage has been “pervasive and inflammatory” and makes it impossible to find impartial jurors.
Tyler Johnston, a lawyer for Alexander Ken Jackson, 21, said he was most concerned about the coverage from the local media and social media comments on those articles. The defense submitted 66 exhibits of those articles from area media coverage.
A jury pool would be prejudiced by this coverage, and after this hearing a jury will know Jackson — who was at the hearing wearing a green jumpsuit — is in jail, which jurors aren’t allowed to know at trial, Johnston noted.
This was the first pretrial hearing that Jackson has attended. His lawyers have obtained a written waiver for him to not be present at every hearing since his arrest June 15, 2021.
Johnston said the articles paint his client in a bad light, and people in this community know or are familiar with him and his family members. Jackson went to the UI and — like his sister, Sabrina Jackson, 19 — graduated from Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids.
Amber Foley, another of Jackson’s three lawyers, pointed out Facebook posts, included in the submitted exhibits, for 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Lars Anderson to review that the lawyers say shows prejudice. Those had been shared 143 times and had 111 comments.
Moving the trial to another district, such as Council Bluffs or some other city on the western side of the state, where the media markets don’t overlap, would eliminate or lessen media coverage of the proceedings, Johnston said.
First Assistant Linn County Attorney Monica Slaughter said the news articles about this case have been factual and far from inflammatory. She also didn’t think the articles were sensational.
Slaughter pointed out that “rigorous” voir dire — questioning of potential jurors — can eliminate those who are prejudice and can’t be impartial. The court could also send out pretrial questionnaires to “weed out” any jurors who can’t be fair.
There was much more pretrial publicity and information available to the public about the Drew Blahnik murder case, which Slaughter prosecuted last year, and through questioning at jury selection the prosecution and defense agreed to seat a jury in Linn County.
She said Jackson’s lawyer is being somewhat “hypocritical” when he mentions how the news coverage after this hearing will alert the potential jury pool to Jackson being in jail because the defense “has gone out of the way” to keep him out of every pretrial hearing until this one.
Slaughter also argued that there is nothing to prove that the people who made comments on social media are from Linn County, some other area or another state. The defense hasn’t met its burden to move the trial out of Linn County, she said.
Johnston also asked the judge to leave the record open for a week after this hearing to allow the defense to submit additional media coverage concerning this hearing as part of its argument. Judge Anderson said he would, and would allow the prosecution to make any response to those additional exhibits before making a ruling.
Jackson is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. He is accused of killing his father, Jan Jackson, 61; mother, Melissa Jackson, 68; and sister, Sabrina Jackson, 19.
Police were called about 8:30 a.m. June 15, 2021, to the Jackson home at 4414 Oak Leaf Ct. NE and found the three family members had been fatally shot, a criminal complaint said.
Alexander Jackson, then 20, told police he had been awakened by gunfire and was shot in the foot as he struggled over a rifle with a masked intruder.
Investigators found no evidence of forced entry or burglary at the home, the complaint stated. They found a .22-caliber Browning semi-automatic rifle in the home that police think is the murder weapon. Jackson said he and his father had left it on the fireplace after cleaning it the night before, according to the complaint.
Jackson remains in jail on a $3 million cash-only bail.
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