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Judge bars accused child killer from talking to media

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Judge bars accused child killer from talking to media

  • Citing possible “contamination of the jury pool,” an Oregon judge has imposed a gag order on accused murderer Ward Weaver and others.

Nov. 11, 2003 — Responding to what he called “recent media developments,” the judge overseeing the case against accused child murderer Ward Weaver issued an unusually broad gag order last week.

Judge Robert Herndon, of the Clackamas County Circuit Court, barred Weaver and virtually everyone else involved in the case from talking to reporters. Weaver had recently given a series of jailhouse interviews in which he aggressively asserted his innocence. Weaver is charged with the murders of Ashley Pond, 12, and Miranda Gaddis, 13, both of Oregon City.

The gag order, issued Nov. 6, says media contact “may impair the ability of the parties to select a fair and impartial jury.” It imposes a flat ban on interviews or disclosures to reporters in order to “avoid contamination of the jury pool.”

The order covers Weaver as well as the attorneys, witnesses and investigators involved in the case.

Although gag orders on attorneys are not uncommon, it is unusual for a court to order a criminal defendant not to make public statements protesting his innocence. Local law enforcement officials told KATU, a Portland television station, that the order was “unprecedented,” according to a story on KATU’s Web site.

Elden Rosenthal, a Portland attorney whose practice includes civil rights law, said the gag order on Weaver “raises serious First Amendment questions.” Rosenthal said it was unclear how restricting Weaver’s speech would enhance his ability to receive a fair trial, given the extensive pretrial publicity the case has already received.

The two girls were missing for months before their bodies were found in August 2002 buried in Weaver’s backyard. The case received significant media attention both before and after the discovery of the bodies.

Unlike many criminal defendants, Weaver has spoken freely with reporters. His original court-appointed lawyer, Tim Lyons, quit in March 2003 after Weaver ignored his advice and gave an extensive television interview. Weaver later gave a series of interviews to print and broadcast reporters from his jail cell.

In the interviews, Weaver has steadfastly declared his innocence and has suggested alternative theories for the girls’ deaths, including motorcycle gangs and drugs.

(Oregon v. Ward Francis Weaver) JM

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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