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Cameras barred from courtroom in sniper suspect trial

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Cameras barred from courtroom in sniper suspect trial

  • A Fairfax County judge refused to allow recording, telecast and still photographs of Lee Boyd Malvo’s criminal trial.

March 4, 2003 — Judge Jane Marum Roush denied a request made by 16 media organizations to allow recording and telecast of sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo’s criminal trial in Fairfax County Circuit Court Monday.

Roush also denied a request for still photographs, a request granted by the judge in the case of John Allen Muhammad, the second sniper suspect who is being tried in Prince William County, Va.

While Roush did not explain why she denied the request for camera coverage, according to media law attorney Kathleen Kirby, Roush’s questions led Kirby to believe that the judge was concerned that electronic or still photographs would taint the jury pool.

The judge “was not receptive to arguments that the system includes protections against such prejudice, or that audiovisual coverage would not measurably increase the potential for such prejudice given that the proceedings would be widely covered by both the print and broadcast media regardless,” said Kirby, an attorney for The Radio-Television News Directors Association who led the petition for cameras in the courtroom.

RTNDA was joined by 15 other media organizations, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Roush did not acknowledge the public’s interest in the sniper suspect’s case, which RTNDA argued “is particularly compelling in this case given the impact of the alleged crimes on the community, the age of the defendant, and the fact that he is eligible for the ultimate sanction of the state, the death penalty.”

“There is a significant need for recording and telecast of these proceedings, because the physical confines of the courtroom and the importance of preserving order and decorum in the courtroom necessarily limit attendance,” RTNDA wrote in its petition. “Without electronic coverage, the public will not be able to witness first-hand the orderly administration of justice in a case of keen interest and importance.”

In order to reasonably accommodate the press and public, Roush will permit “point-to-point telecast of the proceedings to a separate building with approximately 100 extra seats,” Kirby said.

(Commonwealth v. Malvo: Media counsel: Kathleen Kirby, Wiley, Rein & Fielding, Washington, D.C.) ST

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© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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