Knigge trial moved to Story County, summer 2019

Judge: Potential jurors had already formed opinions

The trial for a woman accused of killing her friend has been moved to Story County after potential jurors in Webster County said they had already formed an opinion in the case.

Mackenzie Knigge, 27, of Clare, was scheduled to go on trial starting Tuesday in Webster County District Court. She’s charged with first-degree murder in the August 2017 death of Jessica Gomez, 26, of Fort Dodge.

The decision to move the trial to Story County — and push the date of the trial back to June 10, 2019 — came after potential jurors were asked to fill out questionnaires about their knowledge of the case.

The answers led to a motion being filed for a change of venue, Chief Judge Kurt Wilke, of the 2nd Judicial District, told the jury pool Tuesday morning.

One of the questions asked if those in the pool had already formed an opinion. Many of the potential jurors responded that they had.

Because many of the jurors had already “formulated an opinion regarding this case,” Wilke said, “they are concerned that they cannot select a fair and impartial jury.”

Wilke granted the change of venue Tuesday morning, shortly before meeting with the jury pool.

Neither the prosecution nor the defense objected to it.

The nearly 100 members of the jury pool were allowed to go home after Wilke made his announcement.

Ryan Baldridge, first assistant Webster County attorney, released a statement shortly after Wilke ordered the trial moved to Story County.

“I am disappointed that we are not able to at least get some closure for Jessica Gomez’s family at this time,” Baldridge said. “However, it is important that both parties receive a fair trial and that the defendant’s due process rights are protected. After reviewing the questionnaire that was completed by potential jurors on Monday, it became apparent that it could be difficult to select a fair and impartial jury in Webster County.”

Knigge is not the only person charged in the case. Phillip Williams, 26, of Lafayette, Indiana, has also been charged with first-degree murder in the case.

His trial is scheduled for March 5, 2019.

Knigge and Williams were both arrested on Aug. 10, 2017, in Lafayette, Indiana.

As of Tuesday evening, Williams’ trial was still scheduled to happen in Webster County, with no change of venue motions being filed.

On Aug. 7, 2017, Webster County sheriff’s deputies were called to Knigge’s apartment, 524 E. Front St. in Clare, where they found large amounts of blood in the bathroom and evidence of an attempt to clean the apartment, including the presence of cleaning supplies, according to the criminal complaint, filed with the Webster County attorney’s office.

Investigators also found evidence that led them to conclude that a body had been removed from the residence.

Knigge and Gomez were both reported missing Aug. 9.

The two had been described as being friends.

Gomez was last seen Aug. 4. Her vehicle was later found in the area of Easter Avenue and 150th Street near Clare.

After Knigge and Williams were arrested, Gomez’s body was found in a ditch along Indiana Avenue, near Clare, on Aug. 12.

The murder is alleged to have occurred “on or about” Aug. 5 at Knigge’s apartment.

Knigge and Williams are each being held in the Webster County Jail on $1 million bond.