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O.C. judge rejects motion to move trial of driver accused of killing Angels pitcher [Updated]

July 16, 2010 | 12:10 pm

An Orange County judge has denied a motion to move the trial of a driver accused of killing Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two of his friends, rejecting the argument that the man can't get a fair trial in the county where Adenhart played baseball.

"I'm confident a fair jury can be selected to hear this matter," Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard Toohey said Friday.

An attorney for defendant Andrew Thomas Gallo had requested that the trial be moved outside Orange County given the publicity surrounding the ballplayer's death.

Gallo is charged with three counts of murder, driving under the influence, hit-and-run and driving with a suspended license. According to prosecutors, Gallo ran a red light and crashed into a car driven by Courtney Stewart at a Fullerton intersection. Police said he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19% -- more than twice the legal limit -- when he was tested two hours later.

Adenhart, 22; Stewart, 20; and Henry Pearson, 25, were killed in the accident. A third friend, Jon Wilhite, was severely injured.

[Corrected at 3:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this post gave the wrong age for Stewart. She was 20.]

The judge left open the possibility of hearing the motion again if, during jury selection, there is difficulty seating a jury.

Adenhart had pitched for the Angels hours before the accident, making his most impressive start of his young career.

Though he was hardly a star at the time of his death, in death he became a hometown hero.

A makeshift shrine of flowers, red caps, rally monkeys and handwritten notes blossomed outside Angel Stadium after Adenhart's death. People repeated the story of how Adenhart had asked his father to come to the game, saying something special was going to happen. A photo of Adenhart was placed on the fence at the stadium.

When the team won the American League West title last year, the players gathered before the photo, bowed their heads and touched it. In April of this year, the Angels presented the team's best pitcher from the previous season with the Nick Adenhart Award, a bronze statue of Adenhart following through on a pitch.

 Adenhart's death, wrote defense attorney Jacqueline Rubio in her 36-page motion, "captured the hearts of every Angels fan, who felt, with good reason, that they had lost a friend as well as a hero in Nick Adenhart."

"It also," she wrote, "inspired much hate for Andrew Gallo."

-- Paloma Esquivel in Santa Ana