By Peter Shinkle
Of the Post-Dispatch


St. Louis County Circuit Judge Emmett M. O'Brien today denied a motion for change of venue in Leonard Little's drunken driving case.

A little after 3:30 this afternoon, the prosecutor and defense attorneys in the case emerged from O'Brien's chambers, and O'Brien announced he had denied the motion "under the law." He declined to give any further reason for his ruling.

Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum said he could not comment on the case. "We can't talk about it. You've got to ask the judge."

The prosecution and defense have reached an agreement not to comment publicly on the case until it goes to trial, O'Brien said. "There is not a court-ordered gag order," he said.

The case is tentatively set for trial March 28.

Our earlier story:

A judge pulled about 20 people from the St. Louis County jury pool Tuesday to test whether the persistent drunken driving case against St. Louis Rams star Leonard Little should be tried elsewhere because of publicity, as his lawyers have asked.

Questioning revealed at least that most of the jurors were aware of Little's football fame. One woman was not; one man called him "the greatest defensive end that we have."

Judge Emmett M. O'Brien asked jurors to describe what they knew about Little, possibly to test for awareness of the 1998 drunken driving crash downtown that killed a woman and left Little convicted of involunatary manslaughter.

Eventually, O'Brien invited Little and lawyers for both sides into a private session in his chambers for further discussions with the test jurors, presumably one at a time. O'Brien denied a reporter's request to attend. The inquiry is intended to give the judge more information, and is not the actual selection of a jury for Little's trial. It was not clear when O'Brien would rule on the motion to move the case.

Little was arrested on Highway 40 in Ladue about 4 a.m. April 24, accused of driving 78 mpg in a 55 zone and drunken driving. Police said he refused a breath test. County prosecutors charged him as a persistent DUI offender.

Little was arrested April 24 along Interstate 64 in Ladue and charged with driving under the influence and speeding. Police say he failed three field sobriety tests.

In 1998 Little plead guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a traffic accident in St. Louis that killed Susan Gutweiler of St. Louis County.

He pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in that case, completed a three-month jail sentence, 1,000 hours of community service and four years of probation. He was also suspended without pay for the first half of the 1999 season.

Little went to his first Pro Bowl after last season, when he was fifth in the NFL with 12 1/2 sacks. This season, he leads the Rams with three sacks through five games.

The Associated Press contributed information for this story.