ILLINOIS — A federal judge in early May rejected a television station’s bid to force state corrections officials to allow a television interview with condemned serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was executed four days later.
Gacy sent a written request to CBS’s WBBM-TV in Chicago that Bill Kurtis, a news anchor for the station, interview him on camera. Gacy’s request said it would be the only interview he would want to do before his execution May 10.
Illinois Department of Corrections officials, however, refused to permit any in- person interviews with Gacy, prompting a suit filed May 5 by WBBM in federal District Court in Chicago. The suit asked the court to order the Corrections Department to allow the interview.
After hearing arguments May 6, U.S. District Judge Paul Plunkett denied the station’s request for the injunction. In a ruling from the bench, Plunkett held that because the Corrections Department did not permit any visitors to the prison to bring cameras or recording devices, the department was not unconstitutionally discriminating against the media. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the press is not entitled to more extensive access to prison facilities than that accorded to the general public.
The judge also ruled that the regulation does not restrict Gacy’s free speech rights because he has alternative means of communicating: by telephone and by letters.
The court deferred to the Corrections Department director’s determination that scheduling a television interview would impair the security of Gacy’s transfer to the facility where he would be executed. The court held that if acceding to a request for access would have a “ripple effect” on prison administration, the courts must defer to the director’s informed discretion.
(CBS v. Peters; Media Counsel: Bruce Braverman, Chicago)
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