Judge denies change of venue for pastor’s trial

A state district judge denied a motion Thursday to move the theft and conspiracy trial of an Ethel minister out of West Feliciana Parish.

Clay Calhoun, attorney for the Rev. George Veal, 48, argued before 20th Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael that Veal cannot get a fair trial in West Feliciana Parish because of news articles about the case and the October trial of co-defendant John Cobb.

Cobb, a former West Feliciana Parish police juror, Veal and five other people were arrested in 2010 after a State Police investigation into the transfer of insurance money from a defunct Clinton nonprofit organization to Cobb’s church in Weyanoke.

State Police accused the seven of diverting the bulk of the money to private hands, instead of the church.

Calhoun told Carmichael the State Police news release issued the day of the arrests “was basically a closing argument by the state,” including the motives of the people arrested.

Coverage of Cobb’s trial, in which he was convicted of three counts of felony theft, was “sprinkled with prejudicial information,” Calhoun said.

“The trial atmosphere, I believe, was corrupted by this prejudicial coverage,” Calhoun said.

The attorney also said Cobb, who is black, was convicted by an all-white jury and that should be of concern to the court.

“It gives me no concern whatsoever,” Carmichael replied, adding that the facts of Cobb’s conviction have no bearing on the motion to move the trial to another parish.

District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla argued that Calhoun only filed copies of the news articles but had not shown evidence that public opinion had been prejudiced.

Four of the seven people arrested reached plea bargains with prosecutors, and Cobb is awaiting sentencing and a post-trial hearing.

Veal and Cobb’s wife, Carol, are scheduled for trial during the week of March 18.