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Judge attacks media in ruling to withhold documents in murder case

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Judge attacks media in ruling to withhold documents in murder case 07/26/99 NEW YORK--In mid-July, City Court Judge William Mountain…

Judge attacks media in ruling to withhold documents in murder case

07/26/99

NEW YORK–In mid-July, City Court Judge William Mountain in Salamanca refused to release a hearing transcript from a racially charged murder case, reasoning in part that news coverage of murder trials leads to copycat killings and was responsible for recent school shootings. In his order, Mountain held that a transcript of a May 17 preliminary hearing public could taint the jury pool and jeopardize the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

According to Mountain, the reporting of “grisly details” might have helped trigger crimes such as the school shootings in Jonesboro, Ark., and Littleton, Colo. “The norm in this day and age seems to be the news media circling like vultures, each hoping to be the first to feast on the gory details of a story such as this,” Mountain wrote. “Perhaps if the media were to refrain from dwelling on this carrion, we would have fewer ‘copy-cat killers.'”

Mountain added, “Perhaps, we would also be spared the attempts of disturbed children to attain their 15 minutes of fame by murdering their peers . . . if the public were not endlessly bombarded by pictures and grisly details of prior senseless tragedies of the same ilk by the news media.”

Penny Lockwood Brown, a 39-year-old white woman, was raped and murdered as she jogged in a park on Mother’s Day. Sixteen-year-old Edward Kindt, an American Indian, has been charged with the attack on the mother of two. Kindt moved to exclude the public from a May 17 preliminary hearing and to direct that no disclosure be made of the proceedings. The court then decided to exclude the press and public from the hearing. In addition, records in the case, including a statement allegedly made by Kindt to police, were sealed when the preliminary hearing was closed.

The order to close the hearing was challenged by The Associated Press, The Buffalo News and the Salamanca Press, who also asked the court to release a transcript of the preliminary hearing and Kindt’s statement to police.

As of mid-July, the media parties were considering whether to appeal the decision.

(New York v. Kindt; Media Counsel: Joseph Finnerty, Buffalo)