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Newspapers subpoenaed for letters from suspect in murder case

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Newspapers subpoenaed for letters from suspect in murder case 02/22/99 TEXAS--The district attorney who is prosecuting three white men charged…

Newspapers subpoenaed for letters from suspect in murder case

02/22/99

TEXAS–The district attorney who is prosecuting three white men charged with the high-profile murder of a black man in Jasper, Texas, subpoenaed The Dallas Morning News and The Jasper NewsBoy in late January for documents and testimony regarding correspondence between reporters and one of the murder suspects, John William King.

After King was charged, both newspapers received letters from him. As of mid-February, King was being tried on a murder charge in Jasper County for his alleged participation in the fatal assault on James Byrd Jr., who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck. King has been described as a white supremacist. In the letters, King narrated his recollection of the night of Byrd’s death. King did not confess in the letters, but he stated that he and the other men accused of the murder did encounter Byrd that night.

In response to the subpoena issued against it, The Dallas Morning News published excerpts from King’s correspondence in the newspaper and posted the correspondence in its entirety on the newspaper’s Internet site. The Dallas paper argued that it need not turn over materials already in the public domain to the district attorney.

Nonetheless, Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray is still seeking testimony from the Morning News regarding the authenticity and accuracy of the correspondence, and claims he still needs the original correspondence for evidentiary purposes at trial, according to the paper’s attorney. The Morning News was not planning to file a motion to quash the subpoena as of mid-February.

The NewsBoy, a bi-weekly Jasper paper, responded to the subpoena by submitting the original copy of the letter it received from King, along with an affidavit stating that the submitted document was authentic.

NewsBoy publisher Willis Webb said he was initially concerned that the district attorney’s demand for testimony from managing editor Michael Journee would interfere with Journee’s ability to be in the courtroom and cover King’s trial, especially since the paper’s staff consists of only Journee and two other people, one of whom does page layout and graphics.

However, Webb said after the affidavit and original letter were submitted, the district attorney promised the paper that Journee’s testimony would not be necessary. (Texas v. King; Dallas Morning News Counsel: Paul Watler, Dallas)