Judge denies venue change

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SANDPOINT — First District Judge Barbara Buchanan declined on Monday to grant a change of venue to a Sagle man awaiting trial on a charge of sexual battery of a minor under the age of 16 and child pornography.

Chief Deputy Public Defender Susie Jensen argued that Michael Henry Forker’s right to a fair trial has been damaged by pretrial publicity and rancorous online comments. Jensen said the publicity about the case has extended into Coeur d’Alene and Spokane and that some of the reporting contains factual inaccuracies.

“We do feel that this has, in its entirety, biased the area,” said Jensen.

Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall objected to a change of venue. He pointed out that a recently adjudicated lewd conduct case had only two prospective jurors who were aware of pretrial publicity about that case.

Buchanan decided against granting a change of venue.

“I’m not convinced of that,” Buchanan said of the defense argument that Forker’s right to a fair trial has been damaged.

However, Buchanan said the issue can be revisited during jury selection at Forker’s trial, which is scheduled to proceed next month. Buchanan added that a large jury pool would be formed to ensure enough jurors without advance knowledge of the case can be found.

Forker, a 39-year-old registered sex offender, is charged with two counts of sexual battery of a minor between the ages of 16-17 and sexual exploitation of a child for taking photo of a teen’s genitalia.

Forker was convicted of 10 counts of encouraging child sex abuse in Washington County, Ore., according to the Idaho State Police sex offender registry. The charges date back to 2009, when Forker reportedly worked at a shelter for runaway teens. The Oregon offenses are analogous to a charge of sexual exploitation of a child in Idaho.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and find him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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