CATEGORY: Itawamba County

AUTHOR: EILEEN

WILBURN CHANGE OF VENUE

By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

FULTON - The attorney for accused murderer Michael Wayne Wilburn has asked Circuit Court Judge Tommy Gardner for a change of venue as his client's Sept. 8 murder trial nears.

Wilburn's attorney Michael Thorn of Tupelo appeared in Itawamba County Circuit Court on Monday seeking to move the trial to a different location. Assistant District Attorney Sam Reedy made arguments to keep the case in Itawamba County.

Thorn said such a request is "routinely made in major cases like this where there is pretrial publicity."

Wilburn, 32, of Fulton, has been charged with the February 1996 murder of Lila Jean Hood of the Ratliff Community, located on the western edge of Itawamba County.

"With all of the publicity, he (Gardner) would not be able to pick a jury as neutral as possible," Thorn said. The request is not a reflection on the people in Itawamba County, he said, since change of venue requests can be made for high-profile cases.

Reedy said in all of the cases when crime is committed in a county the case should be tried there.

During the change of venue proceeding, Reedy put all five of the county's supervisors on the stand. He said they did this because supervisors come in contact with the people in the county.

The supervisors, he said, were asked if people were discussing the case and if Wilburn could get a fair trial.

All testified he would get a fair trial and they had heard no discussion after the body was found, Reedy said.

As of Thursday, Gardner had not issued a ruling on the change of venue for Wilburn, whose case received national publicity with a spot on "Unsolved Mysteries" after he escaped from the Itwamba County Jail on Aug. 15, 1996. The episode aired on Dec. 13, 1996. He was recaptured days later in Eva, Tenn., by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations and the FBI.

Wilburn is accused of shooting Hood at least six times. Hood, who was 46, disappeared on Feb. 12 after leaving her job. Her husband, Lewis Hood, reported her missing the following morning after repeated phone calls home went unanswered the night she disappeared and the next morning.

He returned home to find blood spots in several areas and the living room in disarray.

Authorities, family, friends and neighbors searched the area for Hood. Her body was discovered on Feb. 15 in a wooded area in the southern part of the county.

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