A man who’s charged in the deadly hit-and-run of 14-year-old Gavin Knupp outside Ocean City is asking a judge to move the trial, asserting that law enforcement and the state’s attorney periodically disclosed details of the investigation and helped ignite a “firestorm of publicity and vitriol” that quickly spread throughout the community.
“The massive and widespread community uprising and media blitz cast insults and threats against the Defendant, his family members and anyone associated with them,” wrote George Psoras Jr., Tyler Mailloux’s attorney, in a motion for change of venue filed on June 16. “This includes community protests, boycotts and extensive social media campaigns which has completely saturated and poisoned the community against the Defendant, to the likes never seen before in Worcester County.”
Psoras attached more than 200 pages of exhibits in support of the motion including news articles, photos of billboards and screenshots from a Facebook group called Do It For Gavin - Justice for Gavin, which has over 23,000 members. He included information from the U.S. Census Bureau to compare that number to the population of Worcester County.
The publicity about the case has been “pervasive, negative, continuing and extremely prejudicial,” Psoras said. His client, he said, cannot receive a fair and impartial trial if it is not moved somewhere else in Maryland.
Meanwhile, Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Haskell argued against the request to move the trial.
“Extensive knowledge in the community of either the crime or the criminal is not sufficient, by itself, to render a trial constitutionally unfair,” Haskell wrote.
Circuit Judge Brett W. Wilson on Friday is set to consider the request to move the trial as well as several other legal issues at a motions hearing. The case has captivated the community, and the initial lack of charges galvanized those in tight-knit Ocean City and Ocean Pines.
Shops and restaurants put up signs demanding “Justice for Gavin” or stating “Do it for Gavin.” Supporters called for charges in the fatal hit-and-run on Facebook and TikTok, sponsored billboards and gave out bracelets and stickers to raise awareness about the case.
In an email, State’s Attorney Kristin Heiser said she was ethically precluded from discussing the case. Psoras could not be reached for comment.
Mailloux, 23, of Berlin, is charged with 17 counts in the crash, which happened at about 10:45 p.m. on Grays Corner Road near Riddle Lane on July 11, 2022. Gavin had asked his older sister, Summer, to pull over so he could take a video of a taxidermy buck’s head on the side of the road. He was fatally struck when walking back to her car.
Prosecutors allege that Mailloux left the scene, went home and kept the 2011 Mercedes-Benz C300 that he’d been driving in the garage until law enforcement seized the car. He lived at the house with his mother, Kearston Frey, and her boyfriend, Ralph DeAngelus, who used to be a partner at a restaurant group.
Besides the request to move the trial, Psoras has filed several others motions, including to dismiss the charges.
Meanwhile, Assistant State’s Attorney Pamela Correa filed a motion to conduct the motions hearing behind closed doors in chambers, accusing Psoras of deliberately or negligently disclosing discovery to members of the public.
Correa argued that a public hearing would “only further serve to further disseminate discovery materials to the public and draw attention to the information already published,” potentially compromising the right to a fair trial and an impartial jury.
Psoras, she alleged, had apparently abandoned his responsibility to preserve his client’s right to a fair trial and impartial jury or deliberated acted to further supplement his motion to move the trial.
Wilson denied the request to hold the hearing in chambers, but signed an order allowing prosecutors to file certain attachments under seal.
When charges were filed in the case, Neil Dubovsky, the Knupp family’s attorney, released a statement.
“This presents an important step towards accountability for Gavin’s death, but it is just a step in that direction,” the statement read. “Let there be no confusion — we will not rest until that process is completed, both through this criminal prosecution in addition to pursuing any and all civil remedies available to the Knupp family.”
Mailloux was issued a summons. He remains free while awaiting trial.