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Venue Change in Horse Shooting Case

April 19, 2000

VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. (AP) _ In a legal move rarely seen in Nevada, a district judge ordered a change of venue in the case of three men accused of killing a wild horse, saying dramatic media coverage of the slaughter of 33 mustangs has stacked tiny Storey County against them.

``I have never in all my jury trials had a judge ask, `Has anyone heard of the case?′ And the entire panel raises its hands,″ said Sharon Claassen, Storey County’s deputy district attorney. ``It just doesn’t happen.″

All but three of the 73 prospective jurors questioned knew something about the case, District Judge Michael Griffin said Tuesday in announcing the change of venue.

The shooting of the horses in the hills near Reno drew national outrage in the days after Christmas 1998.

Two former Marines, Lance Cpls. Darien Brock, 22, and Scott Brendle, 23, and a former high school buddy, Anthony Merlino, 21, were arrested in January 1999, and the two Marines were given dishonorable discharges.

The men were accused of killing more than 28 horses with high-powered rifles, but are charged in the death of one mustang, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Griffin said he intends to move the trial to Carson City, Reno or Las Vegas where it will be easier to find jurors less familiar with the case than the 3,700 residents of Storey County.

Defense lawyers said the move is critical for a fair trial.

Changes of venue are so rare in Nevada that the state Supreme Court doesn’t keep track of them, a clerk said Tuesday. Griffin said he was aware of it happening in a criminal trial in Nevada one other time.

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