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Judge in sniper case quashes subpoenas to reporters, denies leak probe

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Judge in sniper case quashes subpoenas to reporters, denies leak probe

  • The trial court judge quashed subpoenas without waiting to hear journalists’ First Amendment arguments.

April 24, 2003 — The Virginia judge overseeing the Washington, D.C.-area sniper case today quashed subpoenas to four Washington Post reporters and denied defense attorneys’ requests for an investigation into leaks about the case to press.

Lawyers for suspect John Allen Muhammad had asked the court to impanel a special grand jury or appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the source of documents and information leaked to The Washington Post.

On April 16, Muhammad’s attorneys served subpoenas on four reporters — Sari Horowitz, Tom Jackman, Josh White and Maria Glod — and five law enforcement officers to give testimony in the case.

Although the subpoenas did not specify the information sought, in court papers the Post said: “Based on the history of this case, the defendant can only be seeking to identify the source of certain information in The Post.”

The Post has broken several stories about the sniper case, including an April 6 article revealing what it said were co-defendant Lee Boyd Malvo’s conversations with investigators.

The defense said publicity of the information would jeopardize the suspects’ right to a fair trial by tainting the jury pool.

Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr., in denying the defense attorneys’ requests, said today that there was no evidence that a court order had been violated.

According to Post attorney Eric Lieberman, the judge has not issued a gag order in the case. The only relevant court order — that parties file certain discovery documents under seal — has been obeyed fully.

The court did not entertain the journalists’ argument that a reporter’s privilege, grounded in the First Amendment, shielded them from having to testify, according to Lieberman. The court quashed the subpoenas without hearing from the Post‘s attorneys.

Muhammad is scheduled to stand trial in October for killing a man at a gas station in Manassas, Va. on Oct. 9, 2002. Malvo, Muhammad’s alleged companion in the killing spree, awaits trial in November for the Oct. 14 murder of a woman outside a Home Depot store in Falls Church, Va.

The two men have been linked to 20 shootings, including 13 deaths, in five states and the District of Columbia.

(Virginia v. Muhammad; Counsel for The Washington Post: Dane H. Butswinkas, Williams & Connolly LLP, Washington, D.C.) WT

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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