Story by Morgan Harlan | Staff Writer, Video by Kennedy Dendy | Broadcast Reporter
The 19th State District Judge, Ralph T. Strother, postponed the decision on a change of venue for Shawn Oakman’s sexual assault trial until a larger than normal pool of potential jurors can be questioned about their ability to be impartial toward Oakman.
The former Baylor University football player appeared in court last Friday for a motion to move his sexual assault trial out of McLennan County. Oakman and his attorney believe they cannot get a fair trial due to the negative publicity surrounding recent similar cases in the county and at Baylor University.
Oakman was charged with sexual assault in April 2016 and was indicted by a grand jury in July of that same year. According to the Waco Tribune, in December 2018, Oakman turned down a plea offer for deferred probation in return for his guilty plea. He claims he had a prior relationship with the alleged victim and that their sex was consensual.
On the afternoon of Feb. 15, potential jurors will fill out questionaries’ that inquire about their knowledge of the Baylor sexual assault incidents, the Anderson case and other potential biases. The judge will review the answers and then reconsider the trial venue. The approximate 600 to 700 potential jurors have already been summoned.
Shawn Oakman’s attorney, Alan Bennett, said he will re-urge the motion and Strother will take it up, look at the responses and reconsider.
“Jurors when they come in to serve they take an oath to tell the truth, but we have seen experiences, and I have in my own practice that jurors withhold information because they have an agenda,” Bennett said. “There are jurors out there who may find that they have an agenda to try to correct what they perceive are the wrongs from the Jacob Anderson case and take that out on somebody else.”
At the hearing, the defense called two witnesses to the stand, Guy Donald Cox III, a former attorney for Jacob Walter Anderson and Danny Leon Stokes Jr., an attorney for Michael James Davis.
Cox’s former client is Jacob Walter Anderson, 24, a former Baylor fraternity president who was indicted on four counts of sexual assault, then granted a plea deal by the McLennan County District Attorney’s office. Anderson received a lesser charge of unlawful restraint, three years of deferred probation, and a $400 fine. Strother agreed to accept the plea deal.
After Anderson’s plea deal, the McLennan County District Attorney office and Strother received immense amounts of negative backlash on social media and news platforms at the local, state, and national level. Both the District Attorney’s office and Strother received angry emails and phone calls.
The following week after the Anderson case, Michael James Davis was set to go to trial for two counts of sexual assault of a child and six counts of indecency with a child by contact. Due to the publicity of the Anderson case, Strother postponed Davis’s trial to ensure he was given a fair trial in the midst of the media frenzy.
“I have never seen publicity like that here in McLennan County,” Bennett said in reference to the media coverage of the Anderson case. “I’ve just never seen anything like it.” Bennett has practiced law in the county for 39 years.
Both Cox and Stokes testified they believe Oakman will not receive a fair trial in McLennan County because of the negative publicity.
The prosecution called David Deaconson, a Waco attorney, as a witness. Deaconson testified that he believes that Oakman can receive a fair trial in Waco because he believes that contrary to national media coverage, many locals want to form their own opinions about Oakman’s case.
Oakman’s trial is currently set for Feb. 25. He has been out on bond since shortly after his arrest and has been playing football for the Bismarck Bucks of the Champions Indoor Football League.