Judge hears change of venue request for Jeena Roberts' trial

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Updated: 10/05/2013 11:11 am
Former Texas Tech student Jeena Roberts is less than a year into a 15-year prison sentence for causing a deadly car collision while she was drunk. Now she faces a bail-jumping charge, and is asking that the trial be moved out of Lubbock.

Roberts was convicted of intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault for causing the October 2010 collision that killed 54-year-old Linda Smaltz and injured a passenger. She had just returned to Lubbock from a Texas Tech-sponsored trip, and admitted to drinking on the bus before driving drunk and rear-ending an SUV on 4th Street.

After her sentencing in December 2012, Judge Jim Bob Darnell allowed Roberts to spend the Christmas holidays with her family and ordered her to surrender in January 2013 to begin serving her sentence. She failed to show, and was arrested more than a week later by U.S. Marshals in Houston.

Roberts' defense attorney, Chuck Lanehart, told Judge Jim Bob Darnell that media coverage of the incident, the trial and now the bail-jumping charge has made it impossible for his client to get a fair trial in Lubbock. At least three witnesses, all defense attorneys, agreed, testifying that the coverage, while not biased, has been extensive.
After Roberts' trial concluded, video taken by police at the scene of the wreck was released to local media. Television stations aired the potentially incriminating video of Roberts' arrest, during which she verbally berated police officers.

Judge Darnell could make a ruling as early as Monday. If the request is denied, jury selection is scheduled to begin October 14.

Failure to appear in court is a third-degree felony. If convicted of the charge, Roberts would face up to ten additional years in prison, depending on whether Judge Darnell chooses to stack the sentences or have them run concurrently.
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