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Update: Trials of accused killers of St. John deputies moving out of parish

EDGARD — The trials for two of the men implicated in the killing of two St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies will not take place in St. John.

Judge J. Sterling Snowdy, of the 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard, granted change of venue motions this week for Brian Smith and Kyle Joekel.

Brian Smith

In his ruling, Snowdy said it is within the Court’s discretion to select a fair and impartial venue.

Kyle Jockel

“This is a duty that the Court shall bear alone after conducting research to address the parties’ concerns,” Snowdy’s ruling said. “After this Court has selected a viable parish willing and able to accommodate the needs of these cases, the Court will notify the parties.”

One suggestion to avoid the change of venue involved bringing in an outside jury and housing them in St. John throughout the process. The Court ultimately ruled against that.

Snowdy’s ruling stressed the Edgard courthouse is a location at the heart of the controversy.

“It is a building where the victims were likely to be found for work purposes and a community in and of itself where relatives work side-by-side in different departments. Most importantly, this courthouse strives to be a forum for all defendants to obtain fair and impartial trials. For many defendants the impartiality and fairness of this courthouse environment is beyond reproach, but Mr. Smith’s and Mr. Joekel’s case present a peculiar and grave set of facts. If this court would grant the change of venue pursuant to Article 623.1, we would thrust jurors and witnesses into a tense environment without a compelling reason.”

The five-page ruling was signed by Snowdy and set into the Court record on Wednesday, according to the Clerk of Court’s office

Smith and Joekel are possibly facing the death penalty in relation to the crimes following first-degree murder and attempted murder indictments from 2012.

Smith’s original change of venue motion was requested in August 2014.

Smith and Joekel will be tried separately.

In speaking with L’OBSERVATEUR before the ruling, Sheriff Mike Tregre expressed a desire to keep the trial in St. John the Baptist Parish.

In January 2013, the court found probable cause on Brian Smith for three counts of attempted first-degree murder of the officers Jason Triche, Anthony Bullock, Scott Boyington and Charles Wale and charges of the first-degree murder in the deaths of officers Brandon Nielson and Jeremy Triche.

Louisiana State Police initially filed charges on seven suspects following the fatal shootings Aug. 16, 2012, implicating Smith, Joekel, Brittney Keith, Terry Smith, Derrick Smith, Chanel Skains and Tenicha Bright.

According to The Advocate, the only other defendant still awaiting trial in connection to the fatal shootings is Brian Smith’s father, Terry Smith, charged with attempted first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison last year in connection with another matter. Three other suspects — Derrick Smith; Terry Smith’s wife, Chanel Skains; and Brian Smith’s girlfriend, Britney Keith — pleaded guilty as accessories years ago, the Advocate reported.

Authorities identified Terry and Derrick Smith as contract workers employed at a joint venture project at the Valero St. Charles Refinery. Some of the suspects had known ties to a violent anti-government organization known as Sovereign Citizens, which is on the FBI’s watch list, authorities said.

Boyington was working a traffic detail around 4 a.m. in the parking lot, which is used by Valero St. Charles Refinery contract workers and sustained wounds from gunshots fired from a vehicle. Boyington was hit several times but survived and managed to alert dispatch to a description of his shooter’s vehicle.

Police said they were able to place all three Smiths, Joekel and Bright in that car.

The other deputies were attacked when they went to Riverview Trailer Park, where the suspects lived.

Deputies Jeremy Triche and Brandon Nielsen had tracked the vehicle used in the initial shooting to a residence at the mobile home park and were killed when a suspect opened fire on them with an assault rifle while they were questioning two others. Deputy Jason Triche was also injured in the shootings.