UPDATE: Change of venue denied for accused killer in shooting, dragging death

By: Staff Email
By: Staff Email

News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, July 17, 2013

MCDUFFIE COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW) -- Two accused killers made an appearance in a McDuffie County courtroom Wednesday to see if they would stand trial here at home or if a judge would order a new venue.

The hearing stems from a brutal murder involving the shooting and dragging death of Jennifer Kitchens Wells. Ricky and Tina Wells are charged in the murder.

Tina Wells entered the courtroom, clad in an orange jumpsuit followed soon after by her boyfriend and accused partner in crime, Ricky Wells.

The mood was somber, from the looks on the accused's faces to an air of discomfort surrounding the victim's family.

District Attorney Dennis Sanders says the family is getting by the best they know how.

"I think they're handling it as well as it can be handled," he said.

News 12 compared a mugshot of Ricky Wells when he was first booked into jail to his face in court. He's picked up a new teardrop tattoo while in jail.

During the hearing, the defense called several witnesses from the media to the stand, including News 12, to testify about how much coverage this story has generated. The judge ruled it was not enough to warrant a different trial location for Ricky Wells.

"It makes it so much more convenient for the family and the witnesses, and quite frankly, for the expense of McDuffie County," Sanders said.

Which means the jury in his trial will be selected from McDuffie County where the story began nearly two years ago at the Happy Valley convenience store. That's where deputies say Jennifer Kitchens Wells was shot multiple times and then tied to the back of a pickup truck and drug at least 6 miles through multiple counties.

The shocking murder in the small town raised the question: Can the defendants get a fair trial here at home?

"We'll go through the process, and I'm confident that the jury can be selected that will be fair to the state and fair to the defense," Sanders said.

Tina Wells' trial will not begin until after Ricky Wells' trial is complete.

News 12 is told it will be at least January before that trial even begins. Tina Wells' lawyer could then file for a separate change of venue hearing for her.

Initial report:

MCDUFFIE COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW) -- Two accused killers made an appearance in a McDuffie County courtroom on Wednesday to see if they would stand trial in the area or if a judge would order a new venue.

A judge denied a change of venue for Ricky Wells. He is accused of murder along with his girlfriend, Tina Wells.

They are charged in the shooting and dragging death of Jennifer Kitchens Wells through several counties in 2011. Both Ricky and Tina pleaded not guilty in April.

The defense wanted a change of venue, saying there was too much media coverage of the event and bias in the small community. Multiple witnesses from the media, including News 12, were called upon to testify about the media publicity this case has received.

The judge ruled that there wasn't enough opinion and saturation of the story in the McDuffie area to sway jurors and that the trial will go on there.

Both of the accused killers were in court, but the judge decided that since Ricky Wells' trial is first, the change of venue decision only applies to his trial at this point.

They are still deciding when the trial will be but say it will be no earlier than January.

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