RIDGWAY - On Monday, arguments were heard by Judge Richard A. Masson, president Judge of the Elk County Court of Common Pleas, pertaining to a motion to move the homicide trial of Lawrence Earl Donachy Jr., 35, outside of Elk County.
Donachy’s defense attorneys, Shawn McMahon and George Daghir, cited pre-trial publicity as their reason for filing the motion.
Donachy is charged in the April 6, 1999 rape and murder of Irene Challingsworth, a 57-year-old St. Marys beautician, after he allegedly broke into her Walnut Street residence.
Initially, Donachy’s former defense attorney, James Martin, filed a change of venue motion in November 2008. Masson denied the motion in June 2009, stating that it was premature at the time; however, he said the defendant may renew the motion if it is established that a fair and impartial jury panel cannot be selected in Elk County.
McMahon and Daghir filed to renew the motion on Sept. 20. Both were appointed Donachy’s attorneys following Martin's withdrawal from the position.
While Donachy was not in attendance at the hearing, his attorneys presented a variety of newspaper articles from area publications, including The Daily Press, The Ridgway Record, The Johnsonburg Press, Bradford Era, and the Dubois-based Tri-County Sunday and Courier-Express, which contained information about the crime and arrest and which they cited as a reason that a change of venue is needed. The motion also referenced news reports on television and radio pertaining to the incident.
In Martin’s original change of venue motion, he stated, “There had been extensive, inflammatory, sensational and highly inculpatory publicity about this incident and the arrest of the defendant, from the date of this incident to the present date.”
The motion also read that, “Community sentiment is clearly against the defendant, due in large part to the news stories and the tragic death of Irene Challingsworth.
"Because of the pervasive pre-trial publicity, it will be impossible to select a fair and impartial jury in Elk County.”
Both the defendant and the state are permitted to submit any information pertaining to the change of venue request to the court until Nov. 30.
In Masson’s June 2009 ruling denying a change of venue, he stated, “There is no question that the alleged murder of Irene Challingsworth has generated significant publicity in Elk County over the past nine years, but the publicity has waxed and waned. However, the most recent articles relating to the defendant’s arrest in July 2008 through the preliminary hearing and arraignment were not inflammatory as to taint all prospective jurors.
“The six articles from The Daily Press of St. Marys and the three articles from the DuBois Courier-Express presented on behalf of the defendant are factual and objective as opposed to sensational. The recent publicity has been confined to the defendant’s arrest in July 2008 until his arraignment in September 2008 and that publicity has not been extensive, sustained or pervasive. Moreover, sufficient time may pass between publications and jury selection to dissipate the impact of the publicity.”
In addition to homicide, Donachy is also charged with one count each of rape, burglary, aggravated assault, criminal attempt at arson and unlawful restraint.
For more information on this story, see the Nov. 18 edition of The Daily Press.