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Judge bars public from murder proceedings

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    NMU         MINNESOTA         Secret Courts         Jul 13, 2000    

Judge bars public from murder proceedings

  • A judge has closed his courtroom and gagged trial participants for hearings in a high profile kidnaping and murder trial.

A state judge in Virginia, Minn., ordered that his courtroom would not be open to the public during some hearings in a kidnapping and murder case that will be held outside the presence of a jury, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

St. Louis County District Judge Gary Pagliaccetti also ordered attorneys, court employees, witnesses and any other “party” to the case to refrain from discussing it with members of the public, according to the newspaper.

Pagliaccetti cited concerns about maintaining juror impartiality in the face of heightened media coverage of the case, which involves charges that Donald Blom kidnaped and murdered a 19-year-old Moose Lake woman in May 1999. In particular, the judge noted his concerns about pretrial hearings in which lawyers may discuss inadmissible evidence that cannot be considered by jurors, according to the Star Tribune.

Pagliaccetti reportedly justified his gag and closure orders by stating that they were in accordance with Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure and Minnesota case law. He noted that records of the closed proceedings will be kept and released at the trial’s conclusion, according to the Star Tribune.

After issuing his gag and closure orders, Pagliaccetti cleared the courtroom during a pretrial evidentiary hearing.

Paul Hannah, an attorney representing the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Star Tribune and Hubbard Broadcasting Corp. argued against closure of the courtroom at the hearing, claiming that public access promotes confidence in the system, cuts down on speculation and aids in fact-finding, according to the Star Tribune report. Hannah also said the judge could find a less stringent alternative than closure of the courtroom to meet his objectives, such as questioning jurors to make sure they hadn’t been made aware of potentially prejudicial information.

Pagliaccetti reportedly responded that these alternatives could impair the progress of the trial and might not be effective in shielding the jury from such extrajudicial information. Nevertheless, he has denied defense motions to sequester the jury.

(Minnesota v. Blom; Media Counsel: Paul R. Hannah, St. Paul) GK

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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