COLUMBIA, S.C. - A Montana woman accused of stealing a missing woman's identity to get into an Ivy League school can't get a fair trial in South Carolina because of intense media attention, her attorney said Tuesday.
The attorney for Esther Elizabeth Reed of Townsend, Mont., said she plans to ask a judge to move the trial to New York, Chicago or Atlanta.
"Greenville is such a small area and so closely connected to Brooke Henson," said Atlanta attorney Ann Fitz, who took Reed's case pro bono after the woman contacted her from jail. "Brooke Henson's family has said that they want Esther Reed to get the maximum, that she should never see the light of day again."
Reed, arrested Feb. 3 in Chicago, was indicted last year on federal charges that she used Henson's identity to obtain false identification documents, take a high school equivalency test and get into Columbia University. Investigators have said they do not think Reed had anything to do with the disappearance of Henson, who was last seen in 1999.
Fitz also said she is looking for mental health experts to evaluate her new client.
"There's an underlying mental condition that has plagued Ms. Reed for many, many years," Fitz said. She did not specify what condition that may be. "It's my theory that she did this more as a survival technique for circumstances that occurred in her younger life."
Prosecutors have said that, starting in March 2001, Reed juggled six false identities to attend California State University at Fullerton and Columbia University. She concocted various stories about herself, including that she earned her living as a chess champion and had to change her name because she was in the witness protection program.
Reed began attending Columbia in August 2004, using Henson's name to get student loans. When authorities caught up to her in New York two years later, Reed insisted she was Henson and even answered some personal family questions correctly. But she stopped cooperating and disappeared when asked to take a DNA test, according to prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins said he believes South Carolina is the most appropriate place to hold Reed's trial. Wilkins also said that he expected a judge would grant Fitz's request that jury selection, scheduled for next month, be delayed to give her more time to prepare her case.