ST. CHARLES, Mo. - The attorney for a man accused in the death of a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper wants to limit the number of troopers allowed in the courtroom.
Charlie James represents 22-year-old Serghei Comerzan in the murder case stemming from Trooper James Bava's death in 2015. James asked Judge Ted House to order Lt. Col. Sandra Karsten, the superintendent of the patrol, to keep uniformed troopers out of the courtroom during proceedings or from congregating in the hallways of the courthouse, with some exception.
The case was moved from Audrain County to St. Charles County in late 2016, and is set for an April trial. Comerzan also faces charges for resisting arrest and several misdemeanors for the high-speed chase that resulted in Bava crashing his patrol cruiser on Highway FF. Bava attempted to pull over Comerzan for speeding, estimating Comerzan's motorcycle at 105 miles per hour. Audrain County Prosecutor Jacob Shellabarger dropped, then re-filed, charges against Comerzan in October 2016.
James' motion seeks to stop what he perceives as of the Highway Patrol's "effort to influence proceedings in this case." According to the motion filed Thursday, Highway Patrol command staff allows troopers to attend each hearing in uniform, no matter how routine the hearing may be. James asked Judge House to require patrol members to prove that attending court in uniform would be lawfully necessary. A motion hearing to discuss media access and discovery matters on Wednesday, for example, drew eight uniformed patrol members.
"There is no valid and explainable reason for eight uniformed patrolman to be pulled from their regular duties which the taxpayers pay for to sit in court in view of the Judge except to communicate to the judge that the Patrol's attitude as an institution that any request for relief defendant files with this court should be denied," James wrote.
James' motion did not clarify whether the patrol members there were on duty or not. The Highway Patrol did not return a request for comment Friday. Shellabarger told ABC 17 News he opposed the motion, but did not elaborate.
James went on to say that the presence of uniformed patrol members would affect the trial.
"Further, defendant has good reason to believe that highway Patrol Command plans to 'pack' the courtroom with 'blue' at the trial of this case in an effort to communicate to the jury and this court that highway patrol command and the individual troopers want and expect a conviction," James wrote.
Another motion hearing is scheduled for Feb. 24 in St. Charles County at 2 p.m.