Judge hears arguments on change of venue

A judge is considering whether a local man charged in the hit-and-run death of a teenager attempting to board a school bus should have his trial moved out of the county.

At the conclusion of a Friday afternoon hearing, Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin said she will take the change of venue request by lawyers for Shiam Sunder Shankara Subramanian under advisement, and announce her decision at a later date.

Subramanian, 25, of 3224 Country Brook St., was arrested following the hit-and-run death of 16-year-old Columbus East High School student Lily J. Streeval.

On Aug. 30 at 6:55 a.m., the arm signal on Streeval’s school bus was extended and warning lights were flashing when Subramanian is accused of hitting the teen with his vehicle as she crossed South Gladstone Avenue to board the bus, police said.

After the suspect fled the scene, he was pursued by another driver behind the school bus, Brian Rea, until Subramanian got his car stuck in the yard of a law enforcement officer and was taken into custody, court records state. Streeval was pronounced dead shortly after she arrived at Columbus Regional Hospital, investigators said.

During an initial hearing on Sept. 13, Subramanian was formally charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death or catastrophic injury, a Level 4 felony, and passing a school bus when arm signal is extended causing death, a Level 5 felony.

The request for a change of venue was filed Oct. 7 by defense attorneys James Voyles and Brittney Newland of the Voyles, Vaiana, Lukemeyer, Baldwin and Webb law firm in Indianapolis. They claim a fair trial is impossible in Bartholomew County due to pre-trial publicity in the case.

Subramanian attended the hearing but did not speak during the proceedings.

During Friday’s hearing, the defense team called one witness — retired FBI agent Doug Kouns, who owns a private investigation firm in Indianapolis.

While Kouns described local mainstream reporting of the matter as “largely unbiased,” he submitted a report on social media remarks written after news articles were published. Kouns said 89% of the social media comments presumed Subramanian was guilty, while 8% presumed innocence and 3% expressed a belief that a third party was involved.

Based on his survey, Kouns said he did not believe Subramanian could receive a fair trial in Bartholomew County.

But upon cross-examination by Bartholomew County Deputy Prosecutor Kimberly Sexton, Kouns said he did not know the demographics of the respondents, had never spoke directly to them, did not know their ages nor whether they would qualify as jurors in Bartholomew Circuit Court. In addition, Kouns said the 89% of comments presuming guilt ranged from mild assumptions to extreme conclusions.

In their original change of venue request, Voyles and Newland argued there was both public outrage over the alleged offenses, as well as public hostility against the defendant.

Voyles elaborated during the hearing, saying the fact that the defendant was born and raised in India would create “negative feelings” and a “built-in” bias against him in Bartholomew County.

In her written response to the change of venue request, Sexton describes the defense arguments as “nothing more than mere speculation at this point, adding that the defense presents nothing beyond an assertion that this might be the case.”

The two defense attorneys say the case has attracted significant media attention from television networks and newspaper outlets, as well as a large social media following.

But in response, Sexton replied many people observe news stories regarding high profile cases and in today’s digital society, comment publicly via digital media.

“If the standard were to not try any case in Bartholomew County where the public was made aware of the case and commented negatively regarding the case on social media, we would try very few cases that contain serious allegations, including the death of a member of this community,” Sexton said.

The deputy prosecutor added that what potential jurors see in the media today very likely will not be the forefront of their minds when the case is eventually tried before a jury several months from now.

At this time, a change of plea hearing for Subramanian is scheduled for 11 a.m. Jan. 3. A tentative trial date of Feb. 1 also has been set.