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Access to sniper suspect's pretrial hearing denied

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         MARYLAND         Secret Courts         Nov 5, 2002    

Access to sniper suspect’s pretrial hearing denied

  • Reporters were locked out of a hearing for the juvenile being held in connection with the sniper attacks in the Washington area.

Magistrate James K. Bredar refused to grant the media access to a hearing in Baltimore against 17-year-old John Lee Malvo, who, along with John Allen Muhammad, is charged with terrorizing the Washington, D.C. area in a shooting spree that ended with the arrest of the pair on Oct. 24.

Bredar denied a request by The Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Baltimore Sun for access to Malvo’s Nov. 4 hearing that resulted in his detainment. Because he is a juvenile, federal authorities would not confirm if Malvo was held on federal charges related to the sniper attacks.

Bredar ruled that the public’s interest in the sniper case does not outweigh Malvo’s right as a juvenile to be protected from scrutiny and stigmatization. The hearing should be closed to protect Malvo from disclosure of “embarrassing” personal information and “delicate” testimony regarding his past, Bredar said in his ruling Nov. 1.

“I can’t think of any criminal case that the public is more interested or invested in,” said Jo-Ann Armao, assistant managing editor for the Post.

Juvenile hearings often are closed in order to keep juveniles’ names confidential and to assist in rehabilitating juveniles after their release, Armao said. These arguments do not apply in Malvo’s case.

Here, Malvo’s identity is known and prosecutors’ argument that closure is necessary for rehabilitation of juvenile offenders does not apply in light of their efforts to seek the death penalty in this case, Armao explained.

(Media Counsel: Dane H. Butswinkas, Williams & Connolly LLP, Washington, D.C.) ST

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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