Paper limits murder story after judge threatens contempt
COLORADO–Following a judge’s order not to report on testimony from a preliminary hearing, the Clear Creek Courant in Idaho Springs agreed in early October not to print certain details of a preliminary hearing.
Clear Creek County District Court Judge William L. Jones had threatened reporter Jefferson Dodge, the only member of the media at the hearing, with contempt if he reported on the preliminary hearing of alleged murderer Jake L. Gurule. The court feared that testimony about Gurule’s premeditation, or lack of it, could taint the county’s small jury pool, and possibly mean the difference between conviction of first or second degree murder.
The judge claimed reporting certain facts could taint the jury pool. Jones said he was attempting “to get the press to be responsible,” according to the Associated Press.
After Jones threatened Dodge with contempt if he disobeyed the order, Dodge consulted with his editor, then agreed to limit his reporting. The story was published without describing the shooting itself, confessions of two of the suspects to robbery, or details of the way suspects reacted during the robbery attempt. The story included only a summary of testimony by an officer of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Tom Kelley, attorney for the newspaper, said that after the reporter had agreed not to print certain facts it would have been unwise for the publisher to disobey the order without further contact with the judge. In the end, according to Kelley, the “only compromise was that the newspaper [promised to give] good faith consideration to the judge’s concerns.”
Kelley said Jones acknowledged that he probably did not have the proper authority to institute the original gag order. After the paper’s promise to limit its reporting, Jones lifted his threat of contempt charges. The judge has not commented to the newspaper on its choice of which facts to report.
Carol Wilcox, editor and co-publisher of the paper, said she felt the printed version of the story struck a good balance between First Amendment rights to free press and the Sixth Amendment right to fair trial. (People v. Jake Luis Gurule; Media Counsel: Tom Kelley, Denver)