Judge denies motion to move Goliad arson/murder trial
by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
July 2, 2012 at 2:02 a.m.
Updated July 3, 2012 at 2:03 a.m.
GOLIAD - A judge ruled Monday that the murder trial of Delbert Andrew Mills will be held in Goliad County this fall.
Mills, 44, was charged with capital murder and arson in the death of his wife, Patricia Leigh Mills, nine years ago.
District Judge Joseph P. Kelly ruled on Monday that the trial, currently slated to begin in October, will not be moved to another county.
Patricia Mills died on June 25, 2003, in a fire in her home at 127 S. San Patricio St. in Goliad.
Mills was arrested in December and charged with capital murder and arson in February.
The cold case was re-opened in 2010 by Goliad Sheriff Kirby Brumby after he was approached by Patricia's sister, Sharon Burdette. Investigators spent more than a year working on the case.
Mills' defense attorney, Keith Weiser, of Victoria, filed a motion for change of venue, citing prejudice in the community, overt media coverage and collusion of a group of people to prevent Mills from receiving a fair trial.
Mills was in the courtroom on Monday but did not speak.
Weiser called Cecil Yandell, Mills's former employer; Allison Salinas, Mills' ex-wife; and Burdette. He submitted articles from the Victoria Advocate and the Texan Express covering the story. He also submitted an editorial written by Burdette in the Victoria Advocate, a Facebook message sent by Salinas to Mills' current wife, Kayla Mills, and a campaign advertisement run by Goliad County Constable Mike Thompson in the Texan Express as evidence of media coverage.
Yandell said he did not believe that Mills would receive a fair trial in Goliad County because too many people have formed opinions about the case.
"Goliad County is kind of a gossip center," Yandell told the court.
District Attorney Michael Sheppard called Goliad County Sheriff Kirby Brumby, Goliad County Deputy Sheriff Paul San Miguel and Patti McCraney, manager of the local restaurant, The Blue Quail Deli.
Sheppard contended that Mills would be able to receive a fair trial in the county, pointing out that media coverage had not been excessive or biased, that most people were not talking about the case within the county and that there was no one group attempting to keep Mills from receiving a fair trial.
McCraney, a longtime resident of Goliad, also works as a bus attendant in the Goliad school district. She said if the Mills case was something that people in the community were talking about, she would have heard about it.
"The only thing I heard about it is what I read in the newspaper," she told the court.
"Do you think Delbert Mills can get a fair trial in this county?" Terry Breen, the assistant district attorney, asked.
"Why wouldn't he?" McCraney said.