Prisoner who escaped from Va. hospital wants change of venue

WASHINGTON — The man accused of escaping from U.S. Marshals Service custody at Inova Fairfax Hospital sparking a massive manhunt in March wants his trial moved from Alexandria to Charlottesville.

Lawyers for Wossen Assaye argue that the vast pretrial publicity generated by the manhunt across the D.C. area would keep him from getting a fair trial.

Assaye was in custody on bank robbery charges when he attempted to harm himself inside the Alexandria jail on March 27. He was taken to Inova Fairfax where, under the supervision of private security guards contracted by the U.S. Marshals Service, prosecutors say he escaped.

Prosecutors say Assaye got one of the guard’s guns and remained on the run for about eight hours, during which he stole two cars before eventually being caught after he got off a Metrobus along Minnesota Avenue in Southeast D.C. However, Assaye is not charged with the carjackings in the federal indictment. Instead, he is charged with escape, kidnapping of the guards and bank robbery.

His lawyers argue the publicity over events not charged in the indictment adds to the possible bias of potential jurors.

“In the hours between Mr. Assaye’s alleged escape and apprehension, sensational stories about Mr. Assaye, the escape, and the events surrounding the escape completely saturated the media,” his lawyers write in a motion.

“Images of circling helicopters, a hospital locked down, and police dogs searching the area were prevalent. Initial stories and news flashes declared ‘shots fired’ at the hospital; not until hours later did reports clarify that a security guard, not Mr. Assaye, fired one shot in the hallway of [Inova] Fairfax hospital,” the public defender continues.

The motion argues that coverage of Assaye’s background, interviews with his fiancee and the fear sparked by the manhunt has contaminated the jury pool.

On Monday, Judge Leonie Brinkema granted the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s request for more time to respond to the motion, so they have not yet replied to the defense request.

The prosecutors’ response is now due next week.

Assaye is set to go on trial in Alexandria on Aug. 31 — five months after the manhunt. He is being held without bond.

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