Judge moves student slaying trial from Miami

Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 4:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 4:50 p.m.

MIAMI- The trial of a teenager accused of killing his 14-year-old friend in a middle school bathroom will be transferred from Miami to Orlando because of relentless media coverage, a judge decided Tuesday.

It became clear when jury selection was attempted in May that most of the 110 people questioned knew of the case against Michael Hernandez, and many said they had formed opinions about it, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Schlesinger said in a written ruling.

"Coverage of this case in print, radio and televised media has been pervasive," Schlesinger wrote. "This court has serious concerns about the impact of this pretrial publicity on the jury pool, and the possibility of resulting prejudice or bias against the state or the accused."

Hernandez, who was also 14 at the time, faces life in prison if convicted of murder for the 2004 killing of Jaime Gough. Gough was stabbed more than 40 times. A journal later recovered by police showed that Hernandez carefully planned the slaying and had a "hit list" that included another student and his older sister.

Hernandez, now 18, has pleaded not guilty because of insanity. However, he confessed to the crime in a videotaped statement to police. His lawyer, Richard Rosenbaum, has said he will put on expert testimony showing that Hernandez suffers from schizophrenia and a delusional disorder.

If he is acquitted, Hernandez would likely spend years in a mental hospital but could eventually be released if he responds favorably to treatment.

The trial is currently scheduled to begin the week of Sept. 8. Schlesinger, who will likely preside over the trial in Orlando, previously imposed a gag order on attorneys and participants in the trial to prevent them from discussing the case with the media.

At a hearing in June, prosecutors and Rosenbaum agreed on a trial change of venue and recommended Orlando or Tampa because they are similar to Miami in racial and ethnic demographics.

The Miami-Dade County school district reached a $1.7 million settlement with the Gough family over their son's death. They were initially paid $700,000 but had to wait until this year for the state Legislature to approve the remaining $1 million.

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