Court closure upheld in high-profile murder case
NEW JERSEY–In early March, a New Jersey appellate court in Toms River affirmed a lower court ruling that the news media, public and victim’s family could not attend two pretrial motion hearings of accused murderer Sam Manzie. The court held that the trial court’s findings — that public access to hearings on the defense counsels’ request to withdraw from the case would violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights — were well-founded and legally sound.
The Asbury Park Press and the New Jersey Press Association has appealed the decision to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
In February, the trial court closed a hearing on Manzie’s lawyers’ request to withdraw as counsel. The trial court indicated that it would violate the attorney-client privilege to let the media hear and report the reasons behind the request to withdraw. The trial court also sealed the motion and imposed a gag order barring either defense or prosecutors from discussing the case in public.
In addition, the trial judge said he would close a future hearing to determine whether Manzie is competent to stand trial. However, the trial court delayed the competency hearing pending appeal.
The Associated Press reports that Manzie, 16, of Jackson Township, is accused of raping, robbing and killing 11-year-old Eddie Werner when the boy came to his house selling holiday items for the PTA in 1997. Manzie is to be tried as an adult and trial is set to being in mid-April. (New Jersey v. Manzie; Media Counsel: John Connell, Haddonfield and Thomas Cafferty, Somerset)