The ruling by 23rd Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes came after B. Craig Byron, defense attorney for Antonio Prophet, 35, of Lorton, Va., called an expert in change-of-venue cases to testify at Friday's pretrial hearing.
Attorneys can seek a change of venue for their clients if they believe pretrial publicity would make it difficult to choose an unbiased jury.
Prophet is facing trial in the deaths of Angela Devonshire, 22, and her young son, Andre White, of Berkeley County. He is accused of slitting Devonshire's throat in her apartment off Sam Mason Road on June 6, 2010, then setting fire to the residence, according to court records.
Both victims fell through the floor of the garage apartment as it was burning, court records said.
Prophet was apprehended at a homeless shelter in Charlotte, N.C. He was indicted in February on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson.
His trial is set to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday before Wilkes.
Donald R. Richardson, Manford's expert witness, testified that he had done statistical analysis on potential jurors on 30 cases in West Virginia.
He said his staff called 1,500 random potential jurors in Berkeley County, 208 of whom were interviewed to gauge the extent of pretrial publicity in Prophet's case.
Richardson testified that many of them expressed negative reactions toward Prophet when they were told basic details about the case.
He said they offered such responses as “guilty,” “he needs to pay,” “lock him up and throw away the key,” “he’s guilty according to the paper,” “murderer,” “ cutthroat,” and “justice will be done.” Several mentioned the death penalty, which West Virginia does not have.
Wilkes questioned Richardson at length but was not convinced that the expert's testimony warranted moving the trial to another jurisdiction.
The judge asked whether anyone hearing details of the murders would not have similar reactions.
“It's human nature “ he said.
”Are you telling me my jury could not give a fair verdict?" Wilkes asked. “I’ve been trying cases for 20 years. Some were high profile like this one. I’ve only had to move a jury once.”
He asked Richardson if his research considered the demographics of the area, in which many residents commute to distant jobs.
“They know (Washington) D.C., but not Berkeley County,” the judge said.
Prophet is being held in Potomac Highlands Regional Jail in Augusta, W.Va., for security reasons.
Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said members of the victims’ families and some witnesses have friends or relatives in the Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg.