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Judge mulls whether man charged with murdering cop can get fair trial in Dakota Co.

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When asked for their impressions of Brian Fitch, Dakota County residents used terms such as "devil" and "scumbag" and suggested authorities should "hang the guy," "fry" him, or shoot him, the Pioneer Press reports.

A legal consulting firm's survey of potential jurors was a key part of Wednesday's argument by defense attorneys that an impartial jury cannot be seated in the county where Fitch is charged with murdering Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick, the newspaper says.

Fitch's lawyers want the trial moved out of the Twin Cities area. The survey of 265 Dakota County residents by the National Jury Project found 83 percent of respondents think Fitch is definitely or probably guilty, FOX 9 reports.

Fitch (right) is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 12 at the courthouse in Hastings. The lead prosecutor at Wednesday's hearing argued against a change of venue. The Pioneer Press says Judge Mary Theisen pushed him on that point, asking "Isn't it a reasonable likelihood that he can't get a fair trial here?"

According to the paper, prosecutor Phil Prokopowicz said potential jurors should be questioned under oath about whether they can set aside what they've heard about the case in the news media.

Hamline University law professor Joe Daly tells KSTP the question Judge Theisen will have to resolve boils down to: "Can the people of this county make a fair decision based on the facts presented at the trial, or have they already made up their mind?"

Fitch also faces attempted murder charges stemming from the shootout with police that led to his July 30 arrest in Ramsey County. Those charges have been combined with the Dakota County case for a single trial, but defense attorneys want Theisen to separate them into two cases.

According to reports, the judge is expected to rule on the defense motions within a few weeks.

The 47-year-old Patrick was a 1985 graduate of St. Paul's Humboldt High School, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame Wednesday, WCCO reports.

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