The defense attorney for Keishanna Thomas, the Bradenton woman charged with killing her 11-year-old daughter Janiya and then hiding her body in a freezer, wants her murder trial moved out of Manatee County because of the publicity the case has received.
On Oct. 18, 2015, Janiya Thomas was found dead inside a cardboard box in a padlocked freezer at the home of a relative. Keishanna Thomas had brought the freezer over days before under the guise that she was being evicted.
Janiya’s siblings had all been removed from their home weeks before, and their mother had refused to reveal Janiya’s whereabouts to investigators with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Child Protective Investigative Division, saying only she was living out of state with her father’s family.
When Keishanna Thomas refused to tell a judge on Oct. 16 where Janiya was, she was held in contempt of court and arrested. Thomas has remained in custody since then at the Manatee County jail as she awaits trial.
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Thomas is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and abuse of dead body. The state is not seeking the death penalty. If convicted, Thomas will automatically be sentenced to life in prison.
She is scheduled to stand trial beginning Aug. 21.
On Tuesday, Thomas appeared before Circuit Judge Susan Maulucci where her defense attorney indicated he intended to request a change of venue because of the amount of local and national attention the case has received.
Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts also requested that potential jurors be questioned individually about any prior knowledge they have about the case and about any biases they may have because of the involvement of children in the case. Maulucci granted the request.
Maulucci is also considering allowing a more detailed questionnaire, at the defense’s request, to be given to jurors, in order to expedite jury selection. Assistant State Attorney Art Brown did not object, but he and Maulucci will be given an opportunity to review a sample of the questionnaire before a ruling is made.
Thomas was also ordered to produce a handwriting sample to an expert at the state’s request.
To ensure the case will be ready to go to trial in August, the attorneys also agreed to deadlines by which all discovery must be presented and hearings set for any remaining motions.