Public Safety

Double murder trial will stay in Linn County for man charged in shootings outside Cedar Rapids smoke shop

Andre Richardson listens to attorneys Oct. 25 after hearings on change of venue and suppression of evidence in Linn Coun
Andre Richardson listens to attorneys Oct. 25 after hearings on change of venue and suppression of evidence in Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids. Richardson is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Royal Abram and Matrell Johnson in Cedar Rapids in May. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A judge will not move a trial out of Linn County for a man accused of killing two men and injuring two other people outside a smoke shop in May.

Lawyers for Andre Richardson, 26, of Cedar Rapids, who is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and other charges, argued during an October hearing that their client wouldn’t get fair trial in Linn based on the “inflammatory” comments on social media that were attached to numerous news articles on the case.

The defense also said the billboards installed by law enforcement to assist in the capture of suspects in this case have tainted any potential jury in Linn.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Ian Thornhill, in his ruling Wednesday, said there was nothing “outrageous or harsh” in the tone of the articles or news coverage. He described news media coverage as “professional.”

The billboards, he said, did nothing more than to tell the public what any potential juror would be told at the start of this case — the defendant is accused of killing two people.

Thornhill said social media comments attached to the articles are another matter. Many of those are “outrageous, inflammatory, offensive and harsh.” But the views shared in these comments can be found everywhere, not just in Linn County, he said.

The “pivotal factor” is what impact the publicity has had on the Linn County jury pool, Thornhill pointed out. The defense offered no evidence to back up its claims. Defense attorneys argued there was no harm in moving the trial, and it would be the “easy thing to do.” But easy isn’t the standard, and the defense attorneys’ concerns about obtaining a fair and impartial jury won’t “magically disappear with a relocation to another county, the judge said.

Thornhill said the way to determine if publicity had any impact is through jury selection. The court will summon a larger number of potential jurors than normal and allow extensive questioning of the jury panel. The court also will consider using a written questionnaire to canvass those summoned for jury duty.

Besides the charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder, Richardson is charged with two counts of willful injury causing serious injury and one count each of intimidation with a weapon, felon in possession of a firearm and going armed with intent.

He is accused of firing a “series of shots with a .45-caliber handgun at close range” into a Buick Rendezvous in the parking lot of the Iowa Smoke Shop at 70 Kirkwood Ct. SW, according to criminal complaints.

Officers arrived about 1:20 a.m. and found Royal Abram and Matrell Johnson, both 18, of Cedar Rapids, fatally shot in back seat of the car, complaints show.

Two 19-year-olds, Booker McKinney and Kayla Panos-Blackcloud, were in the front seats and were badly injured.

If convicted of the charges, Richardson faces two life sentences. His trial was reset to May 4.

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