Concerns about finding impartial jurors have led a Dakota County judge to move Brian Fitch's murder trial to Stearns County.
District Court Judge Mary Theisen issued a ruling Tuesday that means a jury in St. Cloud will consider the case against Fitch, who's accused of fatally shooting Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick during a July 30 traffic stop.
In a hearing last week, defense lawyers argued public animosity toward Fitch is so strong in Dakota County that seating an open-minded jury there would be difficult or impossible.
They cited a consultant's survey of potential jurors in the county, in which 83 percent of respondents said they think Fitch is probably or definitely guilty of murdering Patrick. A number of them said there's no need for a trial and suggested Fitch be executed.
As the Pioneer Press reports, Theisen agreed to the request for a change of venue, writing "there is a reasonable likelihood that it would be difficult if not nearly impossible to timely impanel a Dakota County jury that could fairly and impartially sit on this case."
A spokeswoman for Dakota County tells FOX 9: "We respect the court's decision and will begin the planning needed to deal with this change."
KSTP reports jury selection in St. Cloud is set to begin on Jan. 12, with the opening statements in Fitch's trial scheduled for Jan. 20.
Fitch faces charges including attempted murder stemming from the shootout with St. Paul police that led to his arrest. Those were combined with the Dakota County murder charge in an indictment from a multi-county grand jury. Fitch's attorneys have asked Judge Theisen to separate them into two court cases.