Trial in killing of Susanville police officer to be moved from Lassen County

Published: Saturday, Jun. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 3, 2013 - 7:52 am

SUSANVILLE – Joanna L. McElrath will not face trial in Lassen County for the 2011 killing of her husband, Susanville Police Officer Robert McElrath, 37.

At a hearing Friday in Lassen Superior Court, Judge John T. Ball ruled that the publicity surrounding the case was so extensive that neither Joanna McElrath nor her co-defendant, Robin Glen James, would receive a fair and impartial trial in Lassen County.

He continued the hearing to June 14 to select a location for the murder trial.

Ball called the more than 96 newspaper articles about the case "a great deal by any standards."

Ball also cited the size of the rural community, the gravity of the crime and the status of the victim, "a well-known and respected police officer and former Marine."

After the hearing, Lassen County District Attorney Robert Burns said the ruling did not surprise him.

Joanna McElrath and James face felony charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder and special allegations that the murder involved lying in wait and the use of a firearm.

McElrath is also accused of committing murder for financial gain.

Burns has charged that the couple, romantically linked at the time of the January 2011 killing, used a prescription narcotic to drug Robert McElrath before using his own car to drive him to a railroad trestle over the Susan River, seven miles west of Susanville, where they shot him with his service weapon and returned later to dump his body off the bridge.

Both defendants have been in custody without bail since their arrests Jan. 6, 2011.

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Read more articles by Jane Braxton Little

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