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Judge in McVeigh trial modifies media access order

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Judge in McVeigh trial modifies media access order 05/05/97 COLORADO--On April 26, after conducting a hearing, the federal judge in…

Judge in McVeigh trial modifies media access order

05/05/97

COLORADO–On April 26, after conducting a hearing, the federal judge in Denver who is presiding over the Oklahoma City bombing trial ruled on a motion filed by two coalitions of media organizations challenging various rulings they claimed restricted their access to the proceedings.

U.S. District Judge Matsch declined to take down a barrier that blocks the view of the jury box for some parts of the audience. He said he did not want the jury “to be looking at the lens of the camera and to have a concern about it,” and that he also wanted to prevent sketch artists from drawing jurors. Matsch said, however, that the barrier was not constructed to preclude the press from seeing the jurors, and that the press could sit anywhere in the courtroom they chose. Media representatives were previously restricted to sitting on the side of the courtroom with the obstructed view.

Matsch agreed to release the transcript of voir dire proceedings held in open court, but declined to release transcripts of challenges to potential jurors for cause, which were heard in closed sessions in chambers. According to Matsch, continued sealing was necessary to protect the attorneys’ trial strategies and juror privacy.

Holding that jurors “do not consent to a strip search of their psyches, and the press doesn’t have any warrant for it,” Matsch also maintained the seal on all identifying information about the jurors.

The press also asked Matsch to modify his April 16 order prohibiting all out-of-court comments by trial participants. The media argued that only statements that could materially affect the trial or prejudice the defendant should be restricted, such as evidence that has been suppressed or not yet been admitted. Counsel for defendant Timothy McVeigh also asked the court to modify the gag order so that he could publicly comment on the case. Matsch took that issue under advisement.

The media’s petition was filed by two coalitions of media organizations, the Colorado-Oklahoma Trial Group and the Colorado- Oklahoma Print Media Group. (U.S. v. McVeigh; Media Counsel: Kelli Sager, Los Angeles)