DARLINGTON — A new judge was appointed Tuesday to preside over the case involving two brothers charged with killing three children in an Argyle house fire, and one of his first orders of business will be to consider a request that could move the trial out of Lafayette County.
Green County Circuit Judge Thomas Vale replaced Lafayette County Circuit Judge William Johnston after attorneys for Armin Wand III and Jeremy Wand requested a new judge as well as a change of venue during a hearing Tuesday morning at the Lafayette County Courthouse.
A change of venue is necessary because the case's intense media attention may have prejudiced potential jurors in Lafayette County, said Guy Taylor, the attorney for Wand III, the children's father, who has been charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide.
"Some of that scrutiny has tainted the jury pool and made it difficult for the defense to get an impartial jury," said Taylor after the hearing that included Wand III, 32, and his brother, Jeremy Wand, 18, waiving their rights to a preliminary hearing.
Taylor said he would be pleased if the trial were moved to another county or a jury from elsewhere were brought in for the trial.
Jeremy Wand also has been charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the deaths of Allen Wand, 7; Jeffery Wand, 5; and Joseph Wand, 3.
Both brothers, who were led into the courtroom shackled and cuffed and wearing orange jail-issue garb and suicide prevention vests, also face arson and attempted homicide charges for allegedly trying to kill Armin Wand's wife, Sharon, and their 2-year-old daughter, Jessica.
Sharon Wand, who suffered burns to 65 percent of her body from the fire, underwent her fifth operation involving skin grafting Tuesday at UW Hospital and was in good condition, according to hospital spokeswoman Susan Smith. Wand has been hospitalized since the fire on Sept. 7.
Neither Taylor nor Frank Medina, the attorney for Jeremy Wand, would say specifically why they sought to replace Johnston, who had handled the case through Tuesday's hearing.
"It's certainly nothing personal. ... It's one of those things attorneys do. It's a big case," Medina said.
Meanwhile, the representatives for the state Attorney General's Office who are prosecuting the case gave the defense attorneys police and medical reports and other evidence that led to the charges against the Wand brothers.
"This is the information that we've been waiting for," said Medina.
After the hearing, Armin Wand Jr., the father of the Wand brothers, again told reporters that his sons are innocent and were forced to sign confessions under duress. He did not provide any further details. Taylor declined to discuss any possible coercion until he could look at the evidence provided by the state.
State Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck declined to comment on the accusations made by Armin Wand Jr.