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Appeals court says no to cameras in murder trial

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    News Media Update         NEW YORK         Broadcasting         March 4, 2005    

Appeals court says no to cameras in murder trial

  • An appeals court nixed a judge’s order allowing cameras into a murder trial, ruling that making an exception to a statewide courtroom camera ban could jeopardize a defendant’s fair trial rights.

March 4, 2005 — Television coverage of a New York murder trial will not be allowed after a state appellate court in Albany agreed with the defendant that broadcasting the trial would violate state law and could threaten his fair trial rights.

The request was granted Feb. 24 after Gregory Heckstall, who is scheduled to go on trial later in March for the murder of a police informant, appealed Rensselaer County Judge Patrick McGrath’s November order to allow cameras in the courtroom for Heckstall’s trial.

McGrath had ruled that the statewide courtroom camera ban applies only during testimony of subpoenaed witnesses. The Supreme Court Appellate Division, an intermediate appeals court, ruled that McGrath interpreted the ban too narrowly and that cameras must be barred throughout the trial.

The appellate opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kane, agreed with Heckstall that McGrath “ignored a clear statutory bar to cameras . . . and the presence of cameras . . . will result in a public spectacle.”

Kane also said McGrath “has the right to control the proceedings before him and control his courtroom,” but “that right is not absolute.” Kane added that McGrath “exceeded his authority” in allowing cameras in the courtroom.

“It is undisputed that the right to a fair trial is paramount,” ruled the court, which said McGrath’s “actions implicate [Heckstall’s] fundamental right to a fair trial.”

Cameras were allowed in New York courtrooms under a 10-year experiment that ended in 1997. Since then, efforts to change the law to allow cameras in the courtroom have failed.

The state Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, has agreed to hear an appeal by Court TV that the state ban on cameras is unconstitutional.

(Heckstall v McGrath; McGrath’s counsel: Peter Moschetti, Latham, N.Y.)AB

© 2005 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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