DALLAS — Heather Mounce, who is accused of 98 charges of theft, identify theft and criminal mistreatment, may have up to three trials, but they all will be in Polk County.
On Monday, Polk County Circuit Judge Norm Hill denied a motion to change the venue due to what the defense characterized as news coverage and social media pages that would create prejudice against Mounce if the trials were held in Polk County.
In her response, the Polk County Deputy District Attorney Sarah Lundstedt said the U.S. Supreme Court does recognize case in which media coverage created “a trial atmosphere that was utterly corrupted by press coverage.”
She said the coverage didn’t rise to that level based on factors the Supreme Court uses in determining whether pretrial coverage is prejudicial. She said many of the news outlets the defense mentioned in its motion were Portland-area outlets, national media or international outlets, not those serving Polk County, with the exception of those published in the I-O. Lundstedt said the content of articles identified wasn’t prejudicial and were published in July, August or September of 2018.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances … the media coverage in this case was not so pervasive to presume prejudice, nor is there anything contained in the pretrial media that is so prejudicial that the defendant could not get an impartial jury in Polk County,” Lundstedt wrote.
In lieu of a change of venue, Mounce’s attorney Tim Park asked for additional challenges to jury members to place an impartial jury. Lundstedt didn’t object and Hill granted both sides the ability to strike 12 potential jurors.
Park’s motion to sever counts on the indictment related to crimes allegedly committed against Anthony Britt, Mounce’s grandfather, was granted. Those charges, 46 in total, will be tried in a separate case than those alleging Mounce used fraudulent documents to steal money from her employers, OpenRoad Trucking and Dallas Retirement Village.
Lundstedt’s response said the state had no objection to trying those charges in a separate case.
In a third decision, the Polk County DA will have to issue an amended indictment to add language to extend the statute of limitations due to an exception in the case of fraud that was not included in the original grand jury indictment.
The new indictment will be issued before the beginning of her trials and Mounce is scheduled to be arraigned on the new indictment the first day scheduled for trial. Hill is weighing arguments related to Park’s motion to suppress evidence related to a pretext phone call – one coordinated and recorded by police to obtain evidence – for the final two charges on the indictment. Park’s motion stated the evidence should be suppressed because investigators didn’t contact Mounce’s attorney before talking to her.
John Wallace, detective with the Dallas Police Department who investigated those charges, provided testimony Monday about the phone call and what led to it.
Wallace said Mounce’s employee, Hank Doan, owner of PNW Metal Recycling reported that Mounce had given him a fraudulent letter and email to ask for time off.
“He discovered that was not in fact true, and she had presented a letter from the Department of Human Services that was fraudulent, as well as an email from the school district that was reportedly from the athletic director. That was also fraudulent,” Wallace said.
The call conducted by a Department of Human Services employee identified as a victim in one of the charges.
Lundstedt asked Wallace why he didn’t contact Mounce’s attorney. He said he didn’t connect the first 96 charges because they involved different victims and occurred later than the other charges.
“It was a completely separate case. I didn’t associate the two. It was in my mind, a newer crime,” Wallace said. “That case was done and over with and already investigated.”
Lundstedt said the accusations in counts 97 and 98 are separate crimes from those previously charged, and asked the court to sever them from the others and try them in a separate trial.
Park argued that the pretext phone call gathered evidence of crimes that were similar to others Mounce is charged with. Making the call without attorney notification was a violation of his client’s rights and that the charges should be dismissed.
“A large bulk of these offenses, your honor, are allegations that Ms. Mounce had doctored up document and provided them to one employer or another for her own personal gain. That is exactly what alleged (in the additional charges).” Park said. “I do not agree with Mrs. Lundstedt that the court can sever on this. I think it’s an improper violation of my client’s rights.”
Hill questioned Lundstedt about whether the case law she cited in her argument applied to the Mounce case, and said he would need more time to read and consider the arguments.
Hill said he would have a decision by Friday.
Mounce’s trails are scheduled to begin on Sept. 10.