By Scott Hamilton,
Andrew Vrba, of Houston, returned to court on Nov. 5, before Presiding Judge Sidney T. Pearson III in Circuit Court of Crawford County in Steelville. Charges include First Degree Murder, Armed Criminal Action, and Abandonment of a Corpse in the Sept. 2017 killing of 17-year-old Ally Steinfeld just north of Cabool. Vrba filed three motions in the hearing through his attorney Thomas Jacquinot.
Motion 1, a Motion To Dismiss Death Penalty Statutory Aggravator, cited the broadness of Missouri Statutory Aggs being overly broad. Parke Stevens, Prosecuting Attorney Texas County and Kevin Michael Zoellner, Special Prosecuting Attorney, Office of the Attorney General both objected to the motion. It is pending for the next hearing.
A Motion To Appear in Civilian Attire and Without Restraints during court appearances pre-trial was heard. The defense cited 12 references to the case which, Jacquinot argued, painted a bad picture of Andrew in the public eye and made it difficult to find an impartial jury. The list of cited references include:
- a color photo of Andrew posted on CNN,
- KY3 website,
- KY3 Facebook page posting on September 22, 2017 which links to item number 2,
- New York Post website image,
- Texas County Sheriff’s Facebook page official posting,
- News-Leader article #1 Sept 25, 2017,
- News-Leader Article #2 Dec. 21, 2017,
- News-Leader article #3 April 3, 2018,
- Kansas City Star Article #1 Sept 26, 2017, and
- Kansas City Star Article #2 Sept 29, 2017.
The additional two references were not announced, and these ten are classified at a security level three and will not be made public by the court system.
Judge Pearson asked Jacquinot how these photos and future photos of Vrba would negatively impact the case. Jacquinot argued the ongoing media coverage in light of the high profile of the case would affect the jury opinion of Vrba. Stevens countered that the evidence supplied by the defense showed the damage was already done, and passing this motion would not reverse the damage. Judge Pearson reviewed it and later overruled and denied the motion.
A Motion For Pretrial Mediation was the third motion heard. Judge Pearson and the prosecutors acknowledged two options: life without parole and the death penalty, and Vrba had rejected a plea bargain for life without parole so there would be no need for pretrial mediation. Defense attorney Jacquinot argued that two other defendants in the same case were offered life with the possibility of parole and that it should be considered, due to the young age of Vrba and this being a first offense. Judge Pearson issued his decision after the hearing and overruled and denied the motion.
Judge Pearson also recommended a change of venue to a larger facility (possibly the Phelps County Circuit Court.) Both the prosecution and defense were asked to consider it for discussion at the next hearing, Dec. 3 at 9:00 a.m.