Richard Rotter sits between his attorneys while entering a not guilty plea on all three charges against him on April 25, 2022, at Snohomish County Court in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Richard Rotter sits between his attorneys while entering a not guilty plea on all three charges against him on April 25, 2022, at Snohomish County Court in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Trial in Everett cop’s killing to go forward in Snohomish County

Richard Rotter’s lawyers argued extensive media coverage made it impossible for a local jury to be impartial.

EVERETT — The murder case for a man accused of killing Everett police officer Dan Rocha can go forward in Snohomish County, a judge ruled Friday.

Richard Rotter’s aggravated first-degree murder trial is set to be held next month in Snohomish County Superior Court, about a year after Rocha’s killing in a Starbucks parking lot in north Everett.

Last month, however, Rotter’s public defender Daniel Snyder filed a motion in court to move the case out of Snohomish County. Snyder cited the outpouring of public support for Rocha, 41, and heavy local news coverage as factors that could prejudice jurors here.

State court rules allow for trials to be moved when a defendant “believes he cannot receive a fair trial in the county where the action is pending.” In 1991, the state Supreme Court ruled “a motion for change of venue should be granted when necessary to effectuate a defendant’s due process guaranty of a fair and impartial trial but a defendant must show a probability of unfairness or prejudice from pretrial publicity.”

In court Friday, Snyder specifically cited media coverage of his client’s reversal of his plea after prosecutors charged him. In his first court hearing after being charged, Rotter’s attorney said the defendant planned to plead guilty. Media covered that surprising news. But a week later, Rotter reversed course, instead pleading not guilty.

Snyder said anyone who heard about that in the news could have a hard time being impartial as a juror.

“The moment one juror indicates they’ve heard Mr. Rotter planned to plead guilty as charged, that is a level of taint that cannot be undone by any further questioning or instructions by the court or counsel,” Snyder said Friday.

Deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson disagreed with the defense’s arguments.

“Both this court and these attorneys have all tried high-profile cases in the past where there’s been concerns about publicity and whether a defendant could get a fair trial or not,” he said in court.

Judge Bruce Weiss denied the defense motion without prejudice, meaning the issue could come up again.

“I’ve been shocked over the years how few people are aware of what’s going on related to court cases,” the judge said. “I don’t know if that’s going to be the case for this particular case. So that’s why I said I’m denying it without prejudice. If it becomes clear that it’s going to become difficult or impossible to seat a jury of Snohomish County citizens, then it can be renewed.”

Rotter’s other public defender, Natalie Tarantino, also pushed Judge Weiss to not allow TV cameras in the courtroom to capture Rotter’s face. Weiss followed that request.

Prosecutors have alleged Rotter, 51, appeared to be moving guns between two cars in the parking lot of a Starbucks near Everett Community College. On patrol at the time, Rocha confronted Rotter, body camera footage shows.

What followed was a calm, eight-minute conversation between the two men before a struggle broke out. It ended with Rotter shooting Rocha several times, according to charges filed in Superior Court.

On Friday, the defendant remained in the Snohomish County Jail on a no bail hold.

The defendant’s trial is expected to go forward next month. Prosecutors expect the trial to last three weeks, with another week likely devoted to whittling down 200 prospective jurors for the trial.

If potential jurors are worried about their impartiality, Weiss will question them individually, lengthening the jury selection process, the judge said in court. Weiss plans to have another 250 possible jurors as backup if there isn’t enough to seat a jury from the first set.

Matheson said he expected 55 to 60 witnesses at trial.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439;; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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