TIPTON – Milton Serrano Jr. will be tried for the murder of Wilton teen Chantz Stevens in Dubuque County, Judge Mark Lawson decided on Friday.
The change in venue came after an estimated one in four people in Cedar County had formed an opinion on whether Serrano was guilty.
‘In this case, the defendant has demonstrated that such a degree of prejudice exists in Cedar County that there is a substantial likelihood a fair and impartial jury cannot be selected in the county,” Lawson wrote in his decision.
The trial has been continued to Aug. 24 to accommodate the criminal docket in Dubuque County. Serrano had already waived his right to a speedy trial. Dubuque County was chosen because it is felt that a potential jury pool will be absent prejudice and is close enough to be convenient for witnesses and attorneys. The Dubuque County Courthouse in Dubuque is about 73 miles from Cedar County.
According to the request for a change of venue, Serrano’s attorney cited extensive media coverage, with articles in the Quad-City Times, Muscatine Journal, Globe Gazette, WQAD and KCRG, which may prejudice the case. Lawson ruled simple media coverage is not enough to warrant a change of venue, but pretrial accounts would have to be so “pervasive and inflammatory” to give rise to the presumption of prejudice.
A Change of Venue study filed with the court found a survey of 402 random Cedar County residents questioned about the case found 66% were aware of it, 55% knew specific details and 25% had formed an opinion on Serrano’s guilt or innocence. Lawson cited 32% were aware of the case from social media and 58% through discussions in the community. It also showed one in four people formed an opinion on Serrano’s guilt or innocence and answers to individual questions on the survey show an overwhelming majority have formed the opinion he is guilty. It was ruled this would make finding an impartial jury difficult.
Serrano faces charges of first-degree murder and second-degree criminal mischief.
According to state allegations, Serrano had gotten into two altercations at a party at 938 Quincy Avenue, Clarence. After the first altercation, he allegedly threatened to stab people. During the second fight, with Stevens, Serrano allegedly withdrew a knife from his pocket and stabbed Stevens twice. Stevens died at the scene.
According to police reports, later that night Serrano posted on Facebook Live about the fight.