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Cameras banned from murder trial over perceived effect on witnesses

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         NEW HAMPSHIRE         Broadcasting         Jun 5, 2000    

Cameras banned from murder trial over perceived effect on witnesses

  • Court decides cameras would lead to “carnival-like” atmosphere affecting witnesses and jurors and jeopardizing the defendant’s fair trial rights.

A New Hampshire judge refused to allow cameras in a trial of a man accused of strangling his mother because she intended to move into a retirement home.

Judge Peter Smith decided on May 31 that the court could not adequately protect the defendant, jurors and witnesses from any adverse effects or attention by the media, and that cameras would pose the risk of eliciting a “carnival-like” atmosphere in the courtroom.

The court held that the “state constitutional right to gather news” recognized by New Hampshire courts does not “entitle the media to videotape and/or photograph court proceedings.”

Smith said that cameras would increase distraction, commotion and confusion within the courtroom, creating a “carnival-like” atmosphere. “It will not serve justice to allow cameras in the courtroom,” Smith wrote, stating that the defendant’s constitutional rights might be jeopardized by the media’s presence at trial.

Smith said his decision is consistent with the state court rule that bans photographing or video- or audiotaping any court proceeding. New Hampshire law leaves the decision to allow cameras and recording devices in the courtroom to the presiding judge. According to the Concord Monitor, other Merrimack County Superior Court judges have recently decided to allow cameras in their cases, even in the most high-profile trials. The newspaper reported that neither defense lawyers or state prosecutors have contested Smith’s ban.

Hall is accused of strangling his mother in May 1999 in Concord, and dumping her body in a trash barrel in Weare, NH. Police found the 77-year old woman’s naked and bound body in May, but did not catch Hall until October, after the television show “America’s Most Wanted” aired a story about the killing and received an anonymous tip. Police say Hall killed his mother after she announced she was moving into a retirement home, leaving him financially independent.

(New Hampshire v. Hall)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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