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Murder suspect seeks to move trial from Duluth

DULUTH, Minn. -- Defense attorneys for a Duluth murder suspect have asked to consider moving a jury trial to another county, citing potentially prejudicial news coverage of the case. William James Holisky II, 64, is charged with intentional secon...

 

DULUTH, Minn. -- Defense attorneys for a Duluth murder suspect have asked to consider moving a jury trial to another county, citing potentially prejudicial news coverage of the case.

William James Holisky II, 64, is charged with intentional second-degree murder in the May 2015 stabbing death of 52-year-old Lisa Jean Isham in Lincoln Park.

The defense cited two Duluth News Tribune articles published in the past year that examined Holisky's criminal history, which includes numerous violent incidents involving women.

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"The severity of Mr. Holisky's case demands that the jury deciding the outcome of the case, more than ever, are not swayed by prior misleading information," public defender Jeremy Downs wrote in a motion filed last month. "While investigative journalism is both a respected and passionate profession, the consequences of such articles are incalculable when attempting to conduct a fair trial in a community."

Holisky is scheduled to stand trial on July 25 at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Munger heard oral arguments Friday on the motion for a change of venue. He did not immediately rule on the request.

Downs argued that his client could not receive a fair trial in St. Louis County as a result of the news coverage.

Holisky's sister was interviewed for an article last July when a warrant was issued charging her brother with murder. She was quoted as saying, in part: "It should not have happened. My brother should've been in jail. The system in Minnesota failed."

A subsequent News Tribune investigation examined the unusual outcome for Holisky in a felony domestic assault case just months before he was charged with Isham's killing.

The March story, based on court documents and interviews with a number of officials in the criminal justice system, found that Holisky had been removed from supervised probation by Munger, even after the defendant violated the conditions of his release by failing to attend court-ordered domestic abuse intervention classes.

"It basically airs his dirty laundry," Downs said Friday. "These articles have been shared on Facebook and discussed in the community. We're very concerned that this could force the defendant to testify."

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Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jessica Fralich opposed the request to move the trial from Duluth.

She argued that the defense had not met the burden for a venue change, citing a 1999 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that established standards for venue changes.

"I would argue that airing dirty laundry is not a problem," Fralich said. "If the reports are factual in nature, they're not prejudicial."

Fralich noted that there were only two articles in question, with the most recent coming more than four months before trial. She said additional concerns could be addressed through standard jury selection protocols.

Holisky was charged in July after police said he was identified from DNA evidence recovered from the suspected murder weapon. Isham had been stabbed numerous times with a knife, and was believed to be dead for about two weeks before her body was discovered on May 30, 2015.

Fralich filed an amended criminal complaint last week, adding a felony charge of animal cruelty to Holisky's case. The new information alleges that he also killed Isham's Yorkshire terrier.

Authorities said Holisky gave numerous statements before his arrest, admitting that he had been romantically involved with Isham, but denying that he was responsible for her death.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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