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Tentative trial date set for man accused of murdering state park worker

LUVERNE -- A tentative date of July 23 has been set for the trial of Randy Leeroyal Swaney, the man accused of murdering Blue Mound State Park worker Carrie Nelson in May 2001.

Swaney sat quietly in Rock County District Court Wednesday, surrounded by his team of three attorneys, while public defender Louis Kuchera argued his motion for a change of venue.

Kuchera told Judge Timothy Connell there was extensive media coverage of Nelson's murder and naming of suspect Swaney, which would cause prejudice in a jury.

"There was coverage about how the small community of Luverne was shaken by this event," Kuchera stated, adding that research suggests pre-trial publicity negatively affects jurors.

"Luverne has under 5,000 people -- there are two stoplights in town," he continued. "This is a close-knit community."

Kuchera questioned whether people in Rock County could put aside feelings and be fair regarding Nelson's murder. He reminded the judge that the investigation into Nelson's death involved approximately 300 people.

"Everybody has a theory about how and why the murder occurred," he added.

Minnesota Assistant Attorney General William Klumpp, who is prosecuting the case, disagreed with Kuchera, telling the judge that in his experience, jurors do not lie when questioned about being impartial.

Klumpp said the publicity surrounding the Nelson murder recounted facts.

"It essentially recited facts the jury will know about two minutes into my opening statement," he added.

Kuchera said the publicity made repeated references to Swaney's previous criminal history and contained anecdotal comments from people in the community.

Klumpp brought up Swaney's criminal history and discussed previous felonies Swaney was convicted of in South Dakota and Minnesota.

"Some of these were quite fresh at the time the murder was committed," Klumpp explained, listing the offenses, which were all property crimes. "It is clear this gentleman is a career criminal."

Klumpp said Swaney's credibility would be an issue and asked that the previous convictions be admitted for impeachment. Kuchera countered that Swaney has never been heard from and that bringing up the felony matters might prevent him from testifying.

In one conviction, Swaney was ordered to pay restitution or go to jail.

"We believe one of the motivations ... was to get the money to pay off the restitution and fines," Klumpp said.

Kuchera called Klumpp's belief "a matter of pure speculation," adding there was no proof to the theory and that Swaney had made modest payments on the restitution.

Connell is expected to make decisions on the previous conviction motions and the change of venue by the end of next week.