Months after getting his change-of-venue motion granted, defense attorney Stuart Hanlon got another win — his Lake County murder case is going where he wanted it to go: Contra Costa County.
His client, Renato Hughes, is accused of murder resulting from a 2005 home invasion in Lake County by Hughes and two accomplices. The accomplices were killed by the white homeowner during the break-in, and prosecutors now allege Hughes, who is black, should be held liable because he created the deadly situation that led the homeowner to kill the accomplices. Hughes has been charged with first-degree murder.
In a hearing Tuesday, Lake County Superior Court Presiding Judge Arthur Mann ordered the trial moved to Contra Costa, which had been Hanlon's favorite on a four-county list the court had been considering.
“I feel real good about it,” Hanlon said later in the day.
Hanlon has argued that Hughes would not receive a fair trial in Lake County, which he describes as rural and predominantly white. According to 2006 U.S. Census estimates, the population of Contra Costa is 9.5 percent black, compared with 2.3 percent of Lake County.
In early 2007, before jury selection, Hanlon filed the first of his change-of-venue motions, which was rejected by Judge Mann. Hanlon appealed first to the First District Court of Appeal and then the California Supreme Court; both rejected his motion, and the Supreme Court ordered Hanlon to start picking a jury.
After four weeks of voir dire, former Alameda County Judge William McKinstry, who was assigned to the case, granted Hanlon’s change-of-venue motion.
Lake County District Attorney Jon Hopkins said he did not protest the move to Contra Costa at Tuesday’s hearing, but said he was concerned about how close the trial will now be to Bay Area publicity and protesters. The state NAACP last year publicly claimed that Hughes could not get a fair trial in Lake County.
“Initially I had some concern because I know that Mr. Hanlon’s defense publicity machine has been very active in the Bay Area,” Hopkins said.
Though race was at the center of Hanlon’s change-of-venue motion, race is a non-issue, Hopkins said.
“This is the case of a violent break-in to a home, and I don’t see people dividing up on different sides of the issue based on their race, no matter what their race is,” he said.
— Evan Hill