BENTON, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The former Benton Elementary School teacher and archery coach accused of sexually molesting children has asked that his trial be moved out of Bossier Parish, but the judge in the case wants to hear from potential local jurors before making that decision.
Aubrey Norcross was arrested Oct. 17, 2018, for video voyeurism and watched charges – and the publicity around them – mount over the next several days, as more children came forward.
On Nov. 19, a Bossier Parish grand jury handed down a 12-count indictment against Norcross that included eight counts of molestation of a juvenile, two counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile, one count of first-degree rape and one count of video voyeurism.
Along with the criminal issues, Norcross became embroiled in a number of civil actions over the two months following his arrest. Just a week after Norcross was arrested, the parents of one of the alleged victims filed a civil suit for damages against Norcross and the Bossier Parish School Board.
Three days before his indictment was handed down, Norcross wife filed for divorce, and within a week after the indictment, two more civil lawsuits for damages had been filed by parents or guardians of alleged victims.
The arrests, the lawsuits, the court appearances all received extensive media coverage, which is what prompted defense attorney Randal Fish to file the change of venue motion.
Norcross stood silently next to Fish as he made his case on what he said was the most pretrial publicity he had ever seen in 40 years.
Contained in Fish’s 92-page motion were newspaper and web articles subpoenaed from local newspapers, radio and television stations, along with thumb drives containing stories broadcast on local television stations, beginning with Norcross’ initial arrest in October 2018.
In addition, Fish argued, the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office sent out press releases to the media regarding Norcross’ arrest and subsequent charges, and invited parents and the media to a meeting with school board officials and Benton Elementary parents on the Sheriff’s Facebook page.
At that meeting, which was covered extensively by the media, the Bossier Parish Sheriff spoke, which Fish said was inappropriate.
“The Sheriff is an elected official in this Parish,” Fish said. “The sheriff issued press releases, participated in a community meeting, after notifying the media.”
Fish subpoenaed Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington for Tuesday’s hearing, but Whittington moved to quash the subpoena, arguing the defense had all the information without Whittington’s testimony.
Prosecutor Hugo Holland said the Sheriff’s testimony wasn’t necessary, since the defense had no objection to the documents and thumb drives regarding pretrial publicity being entered into the record, and presiding Judge Parker Self ruled in favor of quashing the subpoena.
Although Whittington was not in the courtroom Tuesday, former Bossier Parish Superintendent of Schools Scott Smith was, having also been subpoenaed. Fish voluntarily released him from the subpoena, after all the evidence was admitted into the record.
After hearing Fish’s arguments, Self didn’t deny the motion, but instead deferred it, saying he wished to wait until potential jurors were summoned and interview them.
In Fish’s original motion, he added an alternative request to question prospective jurors individually outside the panel of other prospective jurors, which remains on the table.
At the behest of Holland and Fish, pretrial motions will be filed on Sept. 10 in a status conference with Self.