Judge Denies Change of Venue Request from Accused Cop Killer
An area judge has denied a change of venue request from the man accused of fatally shooting a Tuscaloosa Police Officer last year, according to recently filed court documents.
Luther Bernard Watkins was arrested last September and charged with capital murder after he allegedly shot and killed TPD's Investigator Dornell Cousette, who was trying to serve an outstanding warrant on Watkins in west Tuscaloosa.
Suspects accused of capital murder are held without bond, so Watkins has been in the Tuscaloosa County Jail for more than a year awaiting a trial in which state prosecutors will argue that Watkins should be put to death if found guilty.
Watkins filed an official request for a change in venue last Thursday, arguing that he has no chance to have an unbiased trial in Tuscaloosa County. To support his request, Watkins attached three different Inmate Grievance forms he has submitted this year that all allege unfair treatment by guards in the county jail.
In one report, Watkins alleges that a detention officer "got really violent" and threatened him when he asked for a sheet and towel last month. In another, Watkins accuses a detention officer of shutting his arm in his cell's food tray door in August before saying he hopes Watkins gets executed for Cousette's killing.
Watkins also reported encountering Cousette's brother Juan Hall, who is a detention officer at the County Jail, in May. The capital murder suspect said Hall stared at him, started shaking, and "said he would do something" to Watkins.
In a September 13th letter to Circuit Judge Bradley Almond, Watkins argued that media coverage of the killing, Cousette's massive funeral and his role as a police officer will make it impossible to draw an unbiased jury for the trial.
"In closing, the defense pleads with the court to grant this motion to change venue," Watkins wrote. "To realize that just because bias is not visible it does not mean that it is not present or that it will not arise in this trial."
Almond denied the motion for a change of venue last Thursday without a hearing on the matter.