Joplin trial is moved to Juneau: Garcia’s death confirmed as morphine overdose

PUBLISHED KDN 9/19/18

By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens has granted a defense motion to move the murder trial of Jordan Joplin from Ketchikan to Juneau.

The 33-year-old Joplin stands accused of first-degree murder and first-degree theft. The alleged victim, Dr. Eric Garcia Llorens, 58, was one of only two surgeons in the area at the time of his death in early 2017.

In a memorandum filed Monday, Stephens sided with the defense in permitting a change of venue, citing a number of reasons, including significant pre-trial media coverage of the case.

Garcia’s death — and Joplin’s subsequent arrest — sent ripples through the island community as details began to emerge.

According to court documents, Joplin, who is from Washington state, “Has never been employed in Ketchikan, never lived in Ketchikan, and only visits Ketchikan to visit Mr. Garcia.”

On March 27, 2017, Joplin called police to request a welfare check at Garcia’s Summit Terrace home. When Ketchikan Police Department officers arrived, they discovered Garcia’s body lying on a couch in the residence.

Following an examination of the house, police said they noted that a number of items appeared to be missing.

Police said they reviewed surveillance footage from an Alaska-based shipping company that police claim shows Joplin unloading items into shipping containers on March 17.

According to KPD, those containers were bound for Joplin’s residence in Maple Valley, Washington.

On March 30, a warrant was executed on those crates, which according to police were found to contain gold and coins valued at $500,000, 20 to 30 watches valued at $2,000 to $8,000 each, computers, a number of other high-value goods and a pricey collection of liquor.

Police also said that they discovered aa number of wire transfers totaling around $40,000 going from Garcia’s accounts to Joplin’s bank account and PayPal accounts associated with Joplin — including a transfer to a PayPal account called “LOGANKRUISE.”

Joplin worked in gay pornography using a similar name, “Logan Cruise,” in addition to other stage names.

Following the search of the containers, he was arrested on March 31 and extradited to Ketchikan and indicted on the first-degree theft charge.

Four months later, on July 21, a Ketchikan grand jury indicted Joplin on the additional charge of first-degree murder.

Former Deputy Police Chief Josh Dossett said in April that investigators found no obvious signs of foul play when the body was discovered and that the initial autopsy revealed no obvious cause of death.

On Tuesday however, Joplin’s attorney, Katrina Larsen, confirmed to the Daily News that the doctor’s cause of death was a morphine overdose.

Now, about a year-and-half after Garcia’s body was discovered, the November trial is being moved out of Ketchikan and into Juneau.

Citing excessive “pre-trial publicity,” Joplin’s defense team requested a change of venue in a memorandum of law dated Aug. 13.

The memo contains a number of photocopied Daily News articles, a DVD of a news broadcast by KTUU and a write-up by Larsen explaining why the defense believes a change of venue is appropriate in the case.

Ketchikan District Attorney Timothy McGillicuddy followed up with his own memo, citing case law and arguing that the trial should stay in Ketchikan.

In Stephens’ 10-page ruling on the matter, he cites 10 different reasons why a move to Juneau is appropriate — many of those reasons center around proliferation of stories about the case in the media.

“This case involves the type of charges, homicide in particular, that catches the public’s attention and likely would result in an article being read rather than scanned or ignored,” he writes.

Stephens also cites the exhibits presented by the defense as showing the case is “deemed sufficiently newsworthy that it has been the subject of news coverage outside of Ketchikan.”

He also cites a “significant error” in reporting in an article by a former Daily News staff writer at the onset of the case. That article, which later was corrected, incorrectly reported that Joplin told police about the doctor’s death.

In addition, Stephens cites “salacious and inflammatory details; and materially prejudicial details, such as prior criminal record information that likely would not be admissible at trial.

“And it reasonably appears that the news coverage has included material factual details that Mr. Joplin will actively dispute at trial,” he continues.

Further, the judge notes the impact of social media and residents’ ability to share details of the case that might appear in the news.

Stephens’ ruling notes the “well-known” status of Garcia in the community in the fact that he had treated a number of individuals on the 13,000-person island.

“(PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center) is one of, if not the, largest employers in Ketchikan,” he writes. “… It is likely that many staff members, and many of their family members and friends, would pay particular attention to the news coverage of this matter, and likely would have commented on it to others.”

In addition, Stephens writes that a number of local people will be called as witnesses, and notes that a significant number of potential jurors might know the litany of witnesses involved.

He also writes that, “Alaska appellate courts have twice reversed convictions in cases based on the finding that the trial court erred by not granting a defense motion to change venue for the trial.”

“Given all of the above, the court finds that it ‘appears highly unlikely that an impartial jury can be selected’ in Ketchikan for the trial in this case, even after the voir dire process,” Stephens concludes.

In his ruling, Stephens notes that the court is not changing any of the dates of the trial or of the calendar call.

McGillicuddy told the Daily News on Tuesday that he did not wish to comment on the change of venue ruling at this time.

Also Tuesday, Larsen told the Daily News that the ruling was just, as it allows Joplin a fair trial away from media attention in Ketchikan.

“Anyone accused of a crime has to have the opportunity to have their case decided by an impartial jury — and this was just such a unique case in the circumstances,” Larsen said.

Deputy Police Chief Eric Mattson told the Daily News on Tuesday that this would be the first state trial he has participated in that has been moved from Ketchikan to another location, and that seven KPD officers have been subpoenaed and will be flown to Juneau to testify.

Multiple attempts to contact Joplin, who is being held at the Ketchikan Correctional Center on $200,000 bail, have been unsuccessful.

The jury trial is scheduled to begin in Juneau on Nov. 5 and is calendared to last for about three weeks.

PUBLISHED KDN 9/19/18

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