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Judge seals court file, gags participants in murder trial

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Judge seals court file, gags participants in murder trial 06/16/97 KANSAS--In an on-going murder case involving five defendants, a federal…

Judge seals court file, gags participants in murder trial

06/16/97

KANSAS–In an on-going murder case involving five defendants, a federal district judge in Wichita has gagged trial participants and sealed the entire court file.

U.S. District Judge Monti Belot has not responded to a letter written in late May by counsel for The Wichita Eagle asking the judge to make the court file available to the press and public. A letter from The Associated Press to Belot seeking access to the court file has also gone unanswered.

The judge has also declined to meet with media representatives or respond to telephone calls.

The defendants, three women and two men between the ages of 18 and 22, were arrested in connection with a robbery and fatal shooting of a 19-year-old Subway shop clerk last year.

Three of the defendants pleaded guilty in mid-May. Because the court docket was not updated, only reporters who happened to be at the courthouse learned that the hearings were scheduled and were able to attend. The defendants’ plea agreements are also sealed.

One defendant was convicted in early June after a six-day jury trial. The remaining defendant’s trial is scheduled to begin later this month. (U.S. v. Pearson; Media Counsel: Bill Tretbar, Wichita)