Correa seeks change of venue

BUCKHANNON – An Upshur County man charged in an alleged murder-for-hire plot is seeking a change of venue because of extensive media coverage.

Rodolfo “Chino” Villagomez Correa, 33, of Buckhannon, is facing a first-degree murder charge and a felony conspiracy charge in the death of 29-year-old Joshua Oberg. Oberg’s body was discovered along Bull Run Road, a remote area in Upshur County, in a shallow grave in July 2012, after police were led there by a confidential informant.

Correa allegedly hired Jesse Lee Heater, 30, of Buckhannon, to kill Oberg in January 2012 for $5,000. Heater is alleged to have shot and stabbed Oberg on Jan. 23, 2012.

Correa’s defense attorney, Erika Klie Kolenich, claimed in Upshur County Circuit Court Thursday that Correa has been “already convicted by the papers” because of the exposure surrounding the case.

Kolenich also mentioned the case’s alleged potential connection to the disappearance of Luke Stout, a then 24-year-old Buckhannon native who was reported missing in July 2012.

No charges have been filed against Correa relative to the disappearance of Stout, but the motion for a change of venue states Correa is linked to the case “through the rumor mill.”

“The Stout family protested in front of the defendant’s restaurant (Micohoacan Mexican Restaurant on South Florida Street in Buckhannon) on several occasions,” the motion states. “They were known to tell patrons of defendant’s restaurant that they were eating the body of Luke Stout. Because of this behavior, (the) defendant’s wife was forced to close the business.

“Further, the Stouts have made public inquiry regarding the defendant and law enforcement at a City Council meeting. The meeting was videoed and said video was widely viewed within the community. It would be impossible in a county that has been subject to this behavior for the defendant to get a fair trial.”

“I think there are some people in the community who want to hang him (Correa),” Kolenich said in court Thursday, also calling the news coverage of the matter “sensationalized.”

The motion for a change of venue in the case was filed Feb. 25 in Upshur County Circuit Court.

Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger objected to the motion, saying, “We’ve had other cases that are high profile.”

Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall did not rule on the motion to change venue Thursday.

Correa’s attorneys, Kolenich and Phil Isner of Elkins, filed a separate motion to retain a jury consultant to ensure a fair and impartial trial.

Judge Hall did not rule on that motion either, but said he would take it under advisement.

In preparation for the upcoming trial, Judge Hall said a larger-than-normal jury panel is being considered for the case. After the hearing, Hall said the jury panels could consist of as many as 60 people for Correa and 75 for Heater, who he said is a local native and has more family living in the community. The final numbers could change at the discretion of the court.

The court usually randomly selects a panel of 30 people and arrives at a selection of about 20 people and four alternative panelists, Judge Hall said. The court then arrives at a selection of 12 jury members and two alternative jury members.

Judge Hall set a pre-trial hearing for Correa at 10 a.m. July 16. At that time, the motion for a jury consultant may be decided.

Circuit Clerk Brian Gaudet said if this case goes to trial, jury selection is set for 9 a.m. July 28, with the trial expected to begin immediately afterward.