Gag order on capital-murder case vacated by court
KANSAS–A state trial court vacated at a mid-April hearing its own gag order that prohibited attorneys, police and court personnel from discussing with the news media the facts in a capital-murder trial.
The order had applied to the case of one of three teenagers accused of shooting to death in mid-March a 55-year-old mother and her 26-year-old son at a Pizza Hut where the two worked.
Judge Larry Bengtson, of the District Court of Geary County in Junction City, scheduled the hearing on his late-March gag order at the request of Montgomery Publications Inc., parent company of the Daily Union and KTMJ-TV. Montgomery Publications argued that the order was an unconstitutional prior restraint.
Bengtson vacated the gag order after the defense withdrew its motion at the hearing in light of Montgomery Publications’ arguments.
Bengtson had issued the gag order in late-March at the request of the 18-year-old defendant, who could be sentenced to death if convicted of capital murder. The defendant had also asked the court to close all pretrial hearings, to seal all documents related to the case until the court sequesters a jury and to bar cameras from the court proceedings. Bengtson had only ruled on the motion for the gag order.
The defendant had claimed that prejudicial publicity in radio, television and newspaper reports was threatening his right to a fair trial. (Kansas v. Everitt; Media Counsel: Mark Edwards, Junction City, Kan.)