- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A Mississippi death row inmate is arguing news coverage and the prominence of the victim’s family in Union County denied him an impartial jury at his sentencing.

The attorney for David Neal Cox Sr. told the Mississippi Supreme Court on Tuesday that the trial judge should have moved the hearing outside Union County because a high percentage of the local community knew those involved.

“Everybody in a community that has something like this happen feels it individually. There are plenty of counties in Mississippi that could be more detached and make a detached decision,” Cox’s public defender Alison Steiner said.

Cox pleaded guilty to murder in the 2010 fatal shooting of his wife, Kim Kirk Cox. Steiner said Cox admitted he killed his wife and doesn’t want to withdraw his plea but just wants a new sentencing hearing.

Authorities said Cox shot his wife and held his son and stepdaughter hostage until deputies forced their way into the home and arrested him.

Cox also pleaded guilty to kidnapping, burglary, shooting into an occupied dwelling and sexual assault. He was sentenced to 185 years on those charges.

Cox, now 44, argues the sentencing should have been moved because of what he called “sensational’ news coverage of the case. He says the news coverage was heighted because Kim Kirk Cox came from a well-known family of law enforcement officers.

“I cannot emphasize how respected this family was,” Steiner said. “Venue must be changed when is doubtful a fair jury can be seated. Media is the method by which you discern the public sentiment.”

Special Assistant Attorney General Cameron L. Benton said Cox offered only one witness and four newspaper articles - all insufficient to support a change of venue.

“This court has held that you don’t even get to the notoriety of the family unless there’s been an inordinate amount of media coverage. Four published articles that happened within days of the murder do not rise to the level of inordinate media coverage,” Benton said.

Benton said Cox was exaggerating the extent of familiarity between prospective jurors and the Kirk family.

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