Judge limits disclosure of information in sniper case
- The restrictions imposed in the Muhammad case are less severe than those requested by the defense counsel.
June 3, 2003 — A Manassas, Va. circuit court judge issued a ruling May 26 that limits what law enforcement officers can disclose in the case of alleged sniper John Allen Muhammad.
The order given by Judge LeRoy F. Millette, Jr., is not as far-reaching as that requested by Muhammad’s counsel. The ruling requires police officers to follow the same guidelines that were established in Fairfax County for the handling of the Muhammad case. They essentially mirror department-imposed regulations concerning the disclosure of information, said Adam Perlman, counsel for the Post.
Though not making it a part of the official order, Judge Millette also expressed confidence that legal counsel would abide by their ethical obligations, Perlman stated.
The original motion sought to preclude information about the arrests and prosecution of both Muhammad and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo. If upheld by the judge, it also would have limited what attorneys could disclose to the media. .
The proposed gag order was an attempt “to preclude the inappropriate discussion of the case theories and evidence . . . and put further pressure on whoever’s been leaking information not to do it any longer under penalty of contempt and the potential for a stay in jail,” said Peter Greenspun, counsel for Muhammad.
Counsel for The Washington Post opposed the motion, claiming that it was “vastly overbroad.”
According to the Post’s opposition filed with the court, the order would “preclude law enforcement and counsel from informing the media about numerous matters which pose no reasonable likelihood of prejudicing the defendant’s ability to obtain a fair trial.”
If necessary, Muhammad’s counsel will take further action to prevent improper leaks to the media throughout the course of the trial, Greenspun said.
Muhammad is being tried in the Prince William County Circuit Court on charges of capital murder, conspiracy, and use and display of a firearm in commission of a felony. He and Malvo are suspected in connection with 13 deaths in five states and the District of Columbia.
A final order has not yet been released, but will be available on a special Prince William County Circuit Court Web site on the Muhammad case at www.pwcgov.org/ccourt/special/.
(Virginia v. Muhammad) — EH
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press