Judge moves molestation trial to Portales

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Attorneys in the case of a Clovis man accused of 116 counts of child molestation agreed Wednesday to postpone and move the trial to Portales.

The deal was struck at a morning hearing in 9th Judicial District Court after Judge Stephen Quinn told attorneys he was not inclined to grant a prosecution motion for a change of venue in the case against Larry Hatcher.

The trial is the second after a jury failed to reach a verdict in October.

Hatcher, 48, is accused of forcing a now-teenage girl to have sex with him for seven years.

Hatcher was originally held in 2007 on $2 million bond and faced 143 molestation charges.

Prosecutors had argued at a hearing last November that numerous articles, blogs and reader comments in the Clovis News Journal and on its website regarding the case were prejudicial to potential jurors.

“It takes a significant amount of prejudice to change venue. Just the number of (newspaper) reports is not enough,” Quinn said Wednesday.

Quinn said he found, “the articles in and of themselves aren’t enough to change venue, (and) the blogs… I don’t know if that’s representative of the community at large.”

The judge noted the majority of reader comments on stories regarding the case were left by a select group of regular commentators on cnjonline.com.

Defense attorney Thomas Harden took over as Hatcher’s attorney following the withdrawal in November of attorney Randall Harris.

Harden asked to postpone the trial, which was set for March.

“He won’t get a fair trial if we go to trial in March, I won’t be ready,” Harden said, promising appeals if forced into a trial that resulted in a conviction.

“The state’s asking me to be ready in a month and a half. I can’t do it.”

Prosecutor Andrea Reeb objected to the request for a delay, citing additional hardship on the female witness, who she said has already been through one trial and wants to move forward to put the matter behind her.

After Quinn expressed his inclination to deny the prosecution’s motion for a change of venue to Portales, Harden approached prosecutors with a compromise agreement, “In order to be fair to both sides.”

Harden told the court, “(Larry Hatcher) didn’t want it moved, but it’s only 20 miles,” he said.

“As long as I can get my continuance, I’ll stipulate to a change of venue but if I can’t, I’m not doing it because I won’t be ready (for trial in March).”

Reeb agreed to the arrangement and a four-day trial was set to begin May 19.