Ben Trane is scheduled to stand trial December 12 on sex and child abuse charges related to his time in charge of Midwest Academy. The prosecution wants the court to move the trial out of Keokuk; it's worried about being able to seat an impartial jury.
Denise Timmins, Assistant Iowa Attorney General, filed a change of venue motion in south Lee County District Court Friday.
In her motion, Timmins said Midwest Academy (MWA) “employed numerous individuals from the local community and had many ties to local organizations and public agencies. MWA also used local government and community groups as references for prospective families.”
She attached an undated flier from “MWA Admissions” that encourages families to get “feedback about us from those who know us best. The names on the list included:
- Former Keokuk Police Chief Tom Crew
- Former Lee County Sheriff Buck Jones
- Former Keokuk School Superintendent Jane Babcock
- Former Keokuk School Board President Tyler McGhghy
- Former Keokuk Mayor Dave Gudgel
Timmins also cited the media coverage surrounding Midwest Academy and Ben Trane, both before the boarding school for troubled teens was closed in early 2016 and after the closure.
Local, state, and federal agents raided the school and removed the students amid abuse allegations.
“Media coverage of this case has been ongoing, thorough and comprehensive, making it likely that the potential jury pool will have been saturated with news accounts of the crime,” said Timmins.
Trane is charged with:
- Sexual Abuse – 3rd Degree
- Sexual Exploitation by a Counselor
- Child Endangerment
“The cumulative effect of pretrial publicity, the significant community ties and involvement with MWA prior to its closure, and the polarization to one side or the other within the community after the closure of MWA creates the substantial unlikelihood that a fair and impartial jury without connections to MWA or preconceived notions or opinions about the case, could be picked in Lee County,” said Timmins in her motion.
Timmins said witnesses who are traveling a long distance for the trial could be affected if the parties are unable to pick a jury in Lee County and the trial is relocated.
She did not identify where the prosecution would prefer the trial be held.
A hearing on the change of venue motion has not been scheduled.