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Judge reverses decision, opens jury selection in murder case

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Judge reverses decision, opens jury selection in murder case

  • After approving a defense motion to close jury selection proceedings, District Judge Cheri Copsey reversed her own decision after a request by The Idaho Statesman.

Sep. 13, 2004 — Idaho Judge Cheri Copsey reopened the jury selection process to the media Wednesday in the capital murder trial of Azad Abdullah, reversing a decision she made a day earlier.

The case is the first in Idaho in which a jury rather than a judge could decide a possible death sentence for the defendant, a change in state procedure after a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Copsey approved a defense motion Tuesday ordering a closed jury selection process.

The Idaho Statesman , owned by Gannett Co., sought a reserval.

“The paper put together a letter with counsel help asking her to reconsider or rescind,” said Charles Tobin, an attorney for the newspaper.

Executive Editor Carolyn Washburn’s letter cited a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Press-Enterprise v. Superior Court , which found that the public’s presumed right of access to all phases of a trial included jury selection.

“The trial of Azad Abdullah is of significant public concern to the readers of The Statesman and to everyone in this region,” Washburn wrote. “Concerns about the comfort of the jury do not meet the test mandated by the Supreme Court.”

Just as lawyers for the newspapers were preparing to write a brief, Copsey overturned her decision.

The newspaper was pleased with the decision despite nuances that would allow the lawyers to close the jury selection during certain questions relating to suicide and use of medication, Tobin said.

Abdullah is charged with murdering his wife and subsequently burning down his house to cover up the crime. Defense attorneys may present evidence that Abdullah’s wife committed suicide or accidentally overdosed on an antidepressant.

The big battle for the newspaper was the completely closed jury selection in the first case in Idaho where the jury is deciding a life or death sentence, Tobin said.

Defense attorney Kim Toryanski said she also was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“I think the judge ended up shaping the best alternative in the end,” she said.

“We really agonized over [the defense motion] because we believe so strongly in our client’s 6th Amendment right to an open trial,” she said. “We strongly believe in the openness of all proceedings.”

Toryanski said that in this case, the defense attorneys had to consider the privacy interests of prospective jurors in answering sensitive questions.

(Idaho v. Abdullah, Media Counsel: Charles Tobin, Washington, D.C.) CB

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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