District Attorney Raymond Pelrine hands Door County Sheriff Investigator Mark Winkel an exhibit to verify during motions hearing Thursday. / Heidi Hodges/ For the Door County Advocate
The jury for the murder trial of a Plainfield, Ill., man accused of killing a woman at a Door County resort will be drawn from outside Door County.
Brian M. Cooper, 36, is charged in Door County Circuit Court with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the deaths of Alisha N. Bromfield, 21, also of Plainfield, and her unborn daughter, whom she planned to call Ava. Cooper was not the father.
Bromfield was approximately 61/2 months pregnant at the time of her death.
Early in the morning on Aug. 19, Cooper allegedly strangled Bromfield. He is also charged with third-degree sexual assault for allegedly having sex with the body.
Cooper, who has plead not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, is scheduled to go to trial in April 8. The trial is scheduled to last a week.
During the motions hearing Thursday before Judge D. Todd Ehlers, defense attorney Shane Brabazon argued that his client could not get a fair trial in Door County because of the extensive media coverage that has accompanied the court hearings and because of comments left by Door County residents on various social media and news sites.
“The coverage of this case has been very intense when he first was charged, and (the coverage) has (since) centered around court dates with one or two exceptions,” Brabazon said.
One of those exceptions was a Door County Advocate Dec. 15 front-page story that covered details that have not been mentioned during the court proceedings, including Cooper’s alleged use of spy cameras to record Bromfield at his Plainfield home and at the Sand Bay Beach Resort where the two were staying.
The information “has already been disseminated” and we can’t “un-ring the bell,” Brabazon said.
He also mentioned how TV, print, radio and online news reports broadcast not only statements made by the prosecution about Cooper’s feelings and actions during the alleged murder but also the emotional statement made by Bromfield’s mother, Sherry Anicich, during a press conference.
“(The) comment from the alleged victim’s mother ... that she ‘would want to protect the future lives of innocent women and children (and) that this predatory killer and rapist spends the rest of his life in prison’” is an example of statements that could taint the jury pool, Brabazon said.
Besides copies of news stories about his client’s case, Brabazon also gave the judge copies of online comments written by Door County residents and those outside the county had left underneath the news stories and on social networking sites.
People who have commented on these stories have not only communicated their feelings and “judged” Cooper but they have sentenced him as well, he said. One commenter asked why Cooper needed a trial if he had confessed to the murder, and another suggested that Wisconsin should have the death penalty.
“It’s not a Page 2 story for this community,” Brabazon said.
All of this coverage and accompanying comments are available to potential jurors and many potential jurist in the county have already been exposed to the coverage, he said.
“The question here is whether Mr. Cooper can get a fair trial here in Door County,” Brabazon said.
District Attorney Raymond Pelrine argued against the change in venue.
“Defendants can’t be allowed to make facts for their own basis for changing venue motions,” Pelrine said. “The most prejudicial, the most the most loaded, if you will, statements that have come out of his about the evidence of this case to date has just been made this morning by the (defense).”
Pelrine noted, for example, that Brabazon cited Sheriff Terry Vogel’s comments to the media early in the case that there was evidence that the murder was premeditated. The defense attorney said during his statement that there was actually evidence to the contrary.
“First off, the (defense) at no time in written submissions to the court or in his comments this morning challenges, because he couldn’t, statutory and case law standards that you have to apply in a change-in-venue motion in terms of up to pretrial publicity that produces prejudice among the potential jurors,” Pelrine said.
He said by law the prejudice against a defendant must be a “call to arms type things” and pervasive throughout the community.
Pelrine said the majority of the newspaper coverage that has been disseminated in Door County happened around the same time and of the coverage was not unduly “prejudicial.”
“Much of what the (defense) put forward was unless you can find an ignorant panel of jurors, you have to move the trial. It’s impossible to meet such a standard. That’s why it’s not the law,” Pelrine said.
But Ehlers granted the defense motion.
“I am going to grant Mr. Cooper’s request today that we draw a panel of jurors from outside Door County,” Ehlers said.
While he’s confident in jurors in Door County, “the facts of the case geographically” encompass the whole county, Ehlers said: The alleged murder occurred in Southern Door and Cooper was arrested in Northern Door.
The family’s comments following Bromfield‘s death were understandable, but as of yet there has been no “call to arms” although it’s getting close to that, the judge said.
Ehlers‘ plan is to look for a county outside the Green Bay television coverage area in the western part of the state for potential jurors.
He told Pelrine and Brabazon to clear their calendars for April 5, the Friday before the trial, for jury selection.
Contact Samantha Hernandez at email@example.com or (920) 743-3321, Ext. 112.