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Judge says Pollacci can get fair trial here


Published: May 27, 2011

THE TRIAL of former liquor store worker Tom Pollacci — who was convicted last year of raping a woman before being charged with three more rapes — will not be moved to Madera County as his public defender had sought.

Though Pollacci’s attorney, Michelle Wouden, had argued the trial should be moved because it would be difficult to seat an impartial jury considering the extensive news coverage of Pollacci’s criminal cases, Superior Court Judge Terrance Duncan ruled May 20 the trial will stay in Monterey County.

Duncan said the jury selection process would eliminate prospective jurors who are heavily biased against Pollacci, 51, who faces charges of forcibly raping two women in 2007 and 2008.

The decision came several days after Susan Geringer — a university teacher and polling expert hired by Wouden to conduct a survey to determine if Pollacci could receive a fair trial — testified it would be necessary to move the trial.

Of the 100 eligible people Geringer surveyed in Monterey County, 96 percent believed Pollacci was guilty “in one way or another, either probably or definitely,” she said.

The results of the survey showed people thought of Pollacci as “vicious, despicable, guilty,” “evil,” a “slime ball” and a “scuzz bag,” indicating “extreme bias,” according to Geringer, who has performed surveys in other defense cases.

After Geringer’s testimony last week, Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Michael Breeden put forth his own expert, Eugene Bregman, who testified Geringer’s survey was flawed in regards to her questions and sampling techniques.

On Friday, Breeden said there was no question Pollacci could receive a fair trial in Monterey County.

Duncan also said moving the trial isn’t necessary because Pollacci isn’t well known outside the Monterey Peninsula — an area that contains only 12 percent of the county’s population, but where Geringer polled about 60 percent of the people for her survey.

Duncan said the court would provide a questionnaire to eliminate prospective jurors who have may be biased against Pollacci.

He didn’t rule out the possibility of allowing Wouden to file another change of venue motion if it seemed an impartial jury could not be found in Monterey County.

Moving the trial to Madera County, which Geringer said has similar demographics to Monterey County, would have been a logistical challenge and would have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars on top of what has already been spent — including at least $7,500 for Geringer’s study and $4,000 for a prosecution study to challenge it.

The two women Pollacci is charged with raping came forward after hearing about his arrest in 2009 and subsequent trial in which he was convicted of raping an acquaintance in the loft of Ron’s Liquors, the store his family owns and where he used to work.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison for the crime but remains in Monterey County Jail pending his new trial.