Auxvasse murder trial awaits another change of judge, venue

Callaway prosecutor wants a judge with more experience, defense seeks change of venue for Jake Gastler trial

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Jake Gastler

An Auxvasse-area man accused of beating his neighbor to death and sending the neighbor’s father to the hospital is still waiting for his day in court with a new judge and potentially a new location.

At one point, according to online court records, Jake O. Gastler, 24, was slated to have a trial begin June 16. But requests for changes from both the prosecution and defense have delayed that trial.

Callaway County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Wilson said he and defense attorney Justin Carver have both filed motions for a change of judge. This comes after a change of judge was granted once.

The case was originally scheduled to be heard by Callaway Circuit Judge Jodie Asel, who granted the change of judge in late May, according to Case.net — Missouri’s online court records system website at courts.mo.gov. The case then went to Judge Christine Carpenter.

Wilson said he cannot speak for the defense, but his office asked for a change of judge because he wanted someone with more experience to preside over the murder trial.

“It’s nothing personal,” Wilson said.

Carver, a public defender, has also asked for a change of venue. Wilson, who said he could not speak to the defense’s reasons, was able to explain the change of venue process, if it’s granted. Wilson said the case could be in the same circuit and be heard as close as Boone County or it could go outside the circuit in other counties in the state. He said a change of venue is automatically granted in counties with populations less than 75,000 — which Callaway County is.

Wilson said both sides will submit a list of counties they’d like to hear the case and the judge would decide. Wilson said the trial could be heard physically in that county or the jurors could come to Callaway — as was the case for the Sandra Plunkett murder trial this past January.

For now, though, the case is waiting for a ruling on a change of judge, which could send it to Gary Oxenhandler or Kevin Crane. They could also ask the Missouri Supreme Court to select the judge.

That judge would then rule on the change of venue, Wilson said.

Carver could not be reached for comment by press time.

Gastler is accused of attacking his neighbors — a father and son. The attack left the son dead and the father injured.

Gastler pleaded not guilty to the crime in February, despite — according to the sheriff’s office — confessing to it in 2013. The incident occurred in the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 30, 2013, outside Auxvasse. Gastler, 22 at the time, called authorities at 12:58 a.m. to report finding two of his neighbors lying on the ground covered in blood, according to a press release at the time from the Callaway County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies found Zachary W. O’Connor, 30, dead on arrival and his father, Michael W. O’Connor, 57, in critical condition. Sheriff Dennis Crane told the Fulton Sun at the time of the arrest that Gastler had told authorities he found his neighbors in that condition, but Gastler’s story was allegedly inconsistent with evidence found at the scene.

Gastler was taken into custody, accused of beating the father and son.

Three days later, the sheriff’s office said Gastler admitted to assaulting his neighbors as he was facing felony charges of second-degree murder and first degree assault for the incident that occurred in the 1000 block of Blue Ridge Road. On Feb. 13, Gastler , now 23, was indicted on those charges. On Feb. 24, Gastler pleaded not guilty to the murder and assault charges, which Wilson said was not unusual despite an alleged confession.

On Feb. 21, 2013, Gastler pleaded guilty to domestic assault in Montgomery County for an incident that occurred in September 2012 and on the same day pleaded guilty for driving while intoxicated in Montgomery County for an incident in January 2013.

Kevin M. Smith can be reached at (573) 826-2424 or kevin@fultonsun.com.

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