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Judge refuses to let cameras into Runnion murder hearing

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Broadcasting         Sep 19, 2002    

Judge refuses to let cameras into Runnion murder hearing

  • A Superior Court Judge in Santa Ana refused to allow camera coverage in the pretrial proceedings for the man accused in the kidnapping and death of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.

Media coverage will not be allowed in the Oct. 11 preliminary hearing for Alejandro Avila, the man accused of kidnapping and killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, ruled Orange County Superior Court Judge F.P. Briseno Sept. 16 in Santa Ana.

Samantha was abducted July 15 outside her home in Stanton, Calif. Avila pleaded not-guilty to charges of kidnapping, sexual assault and murder.

The judge rejected news media arguments for cameras and audio recording equipment in Avila’s pretrial phase saying extensive coverage might taint the jury pool.

“It is the ruling of the Court that no cameras and no audio will be allowed up to and including the preliminary hearing,” Briseno wrote. The preliminary hearing will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to try the defendant.

“The judge might entertain camera coverage proposals for proceedings after the preliminary,” said Carol Levitsky, Orange County Superior Court spokesperson. But until Oct.11, the court will not permit cameras or audio equipment.

“We were ultimately disappointed with the judge’s ruling,” said Attorney Jean-Paul Jassy who represents The Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and The Orange County Register. Allowing cameras in court would be “an unobtrusive way to educate the public,” he said.

“The public has a right to be present in court,” he said. “Cameras allow the public full opportunity to learn what happens.”

Both the Runnion family and Avila’s defense attorneys oppose camera coverage in the proceedings.

(People v. Avila; Media counsel: Jean-Paul Jassy, David Wright Tremaine, LLP, Santa Ana) LF

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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