Change of venue sought in trial over slain Alabama sheriff

William Chase Johnson is asking a court to move his murder trial out of Lowndes County.
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 1:52 PM CST
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LOWNDES COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - The man accused of killing Lowndes County Sheriff John “Big John” Williams in 2019 has filed a motion to have his trial moved.

According to court records, the motion, which was filed Sunday, is seeking to have William Chase Johnson’s trial moved due to extensive media coverage of the crime.

The motion states it would be “impossible to conduct a fair trial by an impartial and unbiased jury in this county” because of the widespread media coverage following Sheriff Williams’ death. The motion cites several instances in which various media outlets covered Sheriff Williams’ death, Johnson’s arrest and the subsequent court proceedings.

It also states the renaming of the court courthouse in Hayneville, which now bears the name of the slain sheriff, as a subsequent reason to move the trial.

“News reports have detailed that the Lowndes County Courthouse has been re-named for Sheriff Williams. (Def. Exs - 12, 20) This is of course, clearly visible to any potential juror that must enter the courthouse directly below the sign showing the new name,” the motion said.

The trial against Johnson was originally set to take place in 2022 but was moved to October 2023. A gag order has been placed on this case since Johnson’s indictment in 2021.

The fatal shooting happened in 2019 when Johnson was 19. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

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