Bellefontaine mom’s lawyer seeks to move trial, change prosecutors

Marc Triplett also asked the court to dismiss the aggravated murder indictment against Brittany Pilkington, or at least to suppress all evidence from an interview with prosecutors that he says violated her right to counsel.

He also argues extensive media coverage of the case would prevent Pilkington from getting a fair trial with an impartial jury in Bellefontaine. Her family also said they want the trial moved.

Logan County Prosecutor Bill Goslee agreed with some of the motions but called others absurd. Logan County is capable of seating an impartial jury, he said.

“I don’t know if you picked up and moved to another adjacent county or even an adjacent state that you’d ever get away from the publicity,” he said.

Brittany Pilkington is charged with three counts of aggravated murder, accused of smothering her sons to death one at a time over a year. She could be sentenced to death if convicted.

Infant Niall Pilkington died in July 2014 and 4-year-old Gavin Pilkington died in April.

Authorities took custody of her daughter and third son, Noah Pilkington, after he was born in May. But a judge allowed them to return home because there wasn’t enough evidence to determine a cause of death for the first two boys.

Noah died Aug. 18, six days after he was returned to his parents’ custody.

Prosecutors have said Brittany Pilkington confessed to all three murders.

Triplett couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. In his court filings, he alleges that an employee of the prosecutor’s office, Annie Kauffman, interrogated his client while she was incarcerated and without her lawyer.

That hour-long interview took place on Aug. 23, according to the motion, three days after Brittany Pilkington appeared in Bellefontaine Municipal Court with Triplett as her counsel.

Two days later, a grand jury indicted her on three counts of aggravated murder.

Triplett’s accusation is that information gleaned from that interview was presented to the grand jury and influenced the decision to indict.

“The deliberate circumvention of the Sixth Amendment by interrogating Pilkington without counsel present warrants dismissal of the indictment … At the very least, any and all evidence obtained by the state through Pilkington’s statements to Ms. Kauffman must be suppressed, and should be inadmissible at the trial,” the filings say.

Triplett also has asked the court to disqualify the Logan County Prosecutor’s Office from the case entirely because Kauffman made herself a witness for the prosecution and created a conflict of interest.

While prosecutors are barred from talking to defendants about their own case without a lawyer present, they can talk about other cases, said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a University of Dayton law professor. As long as the state doesn’t use anything she said during the interview against her, he said no laws have been violated.

Nothing from the interview was presented to the grand jury, Goslee said.

“It was solely about, ‘What was your relationship with Joe Pilkington and when did it begin?’” he said. “(Brittany Pilkington’s) a witness to us in respect to that interview. She was a victim witness.”

Joseph Pilkington is charged with sexual battery for allegedly having a sexual relationship with his now wife when she was a minor and he had lived in her home as a step-father figure.

Prosecutors don’t intend to use those statements against her, Goslee said.

“To say that the entire office has to be removed from the case is pretty excessive since we’ve said we’re not using the interview in Brittany’s case,” he said.

Even if it only pertained to their relationship when she was a teenager, Hoffmeister said, information from that interview could affect the defense at trial.

“The problem I would have if I was the defense attorney is, if I want to plead mental insanity … or if you’re trying to use something that happened to her before she was 18 as part of her defense,” the knowledge gained in that interview might be an issue, he said.

“I don’t know how you’re going to separate that,” he said.

Some of the additional motions dealt with what evidence can be presented, including asking to prohibit photos of the deceased boys at trial.

It’s an unusually large number of motions, Hoffmeister said, but they address fairly common issues in a capital murder case.

“It is a death penalty case, and you kind of have to expect that they’ll spare no expense because someone’s life is on the line,” he said.

Brittany Pilkington’s uncle, Jeff Skaggs, agrees that the trial should be moved.

“I hope they understand the circumstances and look at all the evidence that is presented to them and let them decide,” he said of the potential jury.

He also hopes the local community is sympathetic and understanding.

“It could be anybody’s family. You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors,” Skaggs said. “I really hope that she gets the help that she really needs.”

A change of venue will increase the chances that a jury hasn’t heard about the case already, Hoffmeister said, because it got less coverage, even in other Ohio cities.

But Goslee said the attention has been national, so a move won’t change that.

The next area of focus is on getting a psychological evaluation of Brittany Pilkington completed, Goslee said. He’d like to accomplish that via a joint motion with the defense.

“My fear about doing that is as soon as we (the state) gets a report that doesn’t come back favorably for her, it has the appearance of bias,” he said. “I would like to see somebody that is reasonably unbiased perform a good set of tests so that we all know what we’re looking at.”

A status conference with the judge will be held in the near future, he said, and he expects the March trial date will likely get pushed back.

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