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Judge denies defense motion to close Muhammad hearing

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Judge denies defense motion to close Muhammad hearing

  • The evidentiary hearing in the Washington-area sniper case will remain open, a victory for the public’s right to know, says a media lawyer.

Sep. 12, 2003 — The pretrial hearing for Washington-area sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad will remain open to the media, Circuit Judge LeRoy Millette Jr. of Prince William County, Va., ruled Tuesday.

Muhammad’s lawyers, Jonathan Shapiro and Peter Greenspun, argued that making the Sept. 23 evidentiary hearing public would expose inflammatory and unverified evidence that “will never see the light of day at trial,” according to a story in The Washington Post yesterday. In asking the court to close the proceedings, they said the release of such information would serve no purpose but to unfairly vilify Muhammad and taint the jury pool.

“We haven’t seen the public clamoring to get into this trial, just the press,” Greenspun told News Media Update.

Arguing that the press has always served as the eyes of the public, prosecutor Paul Ebert and lawyers for four newspapers — The Washington Post, The New York Times, The (Baltimore) Sun, and Richmond Times-Dispatch — said the pretrial hearing should be open to ensure that justice is being conducted fairly.

Millette agreed, yet added that attorneys may refer to a list of evidence by number during the hearing to limit the amount of information released publicly.

“In high-profile cases of this nature, the judge has a tough job balancing the public’s right to know with the fair trial rights of the defendant,” said Craig Merritt, an attorney representing the Times-Dispatch. “In this case, we believe the judge made the proper decision.”

Muhammad goes on trial next month in Virginia Beach, Va., for the Oct. 9, 2002, murder of Dean Harold Myers at a gas station in Manassas. Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, today 18, were arrested in connection with 10 Washington-area sniper-style killings last fall.

(Virginia v. Muhammad) MC

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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