IOWA CITY (AP) — A judge has ordered a survey of potential jurors to determine whether pretrial publicity has made them too biased to hear the drug and assault trials pending against the father of one of two missing Iowa cousins.
In a ruling released Tuesday, Judge Margaret Lingreen said that she has not yet found enough prejudice to justify moving the prosecution of Daniel Morrissey on methamphetamine and domestic abuse charges out of Black Hawk County. But she said she was unable to assess the impact some of the publicity about Morrissey's past had on local residents and that the survey results would help determine whether to grant his request to move the venue out of the Waterloo area.
Morrissey is the father of 10-year-old Lyric Cook, who disappeared with her 9-year-old cousin, Elizabeth Collins, while riding bikes on July 13 in the Waterloo suburb of Evansdale. The girls have not been found despite an extensive manhunt by local, state and federal investigators who are treating it as an abduction case.
The case has received a tremendous amount of local and national publicity, and some of it has scrutinized Morrissey because of his lengthy criminal history and ties to the local methamphetamine trade. Investigators say they have looked hard into Morrissey, who has denied any involvement and once stormed out of an interview with agents. They also have looked closely at his associates as well as numerous other tips and possibilities.
When the girls disappeared, Morrissey was facing prosecution in four separate criminal cases that had accumulated against him over the prior year. He had been expected to accept a plea agreement the day before they vanished that would have required prison time, but family members have said he backed out because he was not ready to give up his freedom.
He is facing charges of domestic abuse for allegedly attacking Lyric's mother, Misty Morrissey, last August. He is also facing charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, manufacturing methamphetamine and other drug charges. He has pleaded not guilty. If they reach trial, each case is expected to be tried separately and officials have not decided which would go first.
Morrissey's attorney, Kevin Schoeberl, said Tuesday he had not yet received Lingreen's ruling and could not comment. He has argued that Morrissey cannot receive a fair trial in Black Hawk County.
Lingreen said Schoeberl should work with prosecutors to create the survey, which will be given to residents who report to jury duty but are not selected for service. Lingreen said that news reports noting the prior convictions of criminal defendants do not automatically create prejudice. Instead, the nature, tone and accuracy of articles, the timing in relation to the trial and the impact on jurors' opinions must be considered to make a ruling.
She said court officials should keep the information gathered from jurors under seal and share it only with the attorneys in the case. Once completed, Schoeberl will be able to renew his request for a change of venue.