A Jan. 18 1st District Court hearing has been scheduled to determine the date and place for Steven Ray James' first-degree murder trial in the 1986 death of his infant son.
Earlier this week, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that James would be allowed a change of venue because of the "excessive publicity and community involvment" surrounding the homicide case.James was brought to the courtroom Friday, but Judge Gordon Low disqualified himself from any involvment, saying attorneys for both sides had expressed concerns about discussions they had with Low about the James case prior to his appointment to the bench.
Low said former District Judge VeNoy Christoffersen, who retired in December, will probably preside at the Wednesday hearing because he has been granted senior judge status by the Utah Supreme Court.
It was Christoffersen who originally denied the change of venue motion for James, charged in the death of his 3-month-old son Steven Roy James.
James first reported the child kidnapped on Aug. 25, 1986.
A wide-ranging search for the infant was conducted by hundreds of Cache Valley residents before the boy's body was found by duck hunters in the marshes of the Bear River on Oct. 11, 1986.
James has been in jail since Oct. 23, 1986, in lieu of $75,000 bail.
Defense attorney Robert Gutke has said Christoffersen's denial of the change of venue motion has delayed the trial more than a year.
"We are at the point where we are concerned about Mr. James' constitutional rights," Gutke told the court Friday.
Cache County Sheriff Sid Groll has acknowledged that James has served more time in the local jail than any inmate in county history.
Gutke said he was pleased the Utah Supreme Court was allowing the trial to be moved out of Cache Valley, especially since a higher court has not reversed a judge on the venue issue since 1897.
On the trial itself, Gutke said the defense has some interesting evidence in James' favor.
"I don't think it will be an open and shut case," he said.
Gutke said he expected the trial to last approximately a month.