Paper turns over documents, fires reporters accused of stealing them
FLORIDA–A Melbourne newspaper voluntarily turned over documents to the Brevard County Circuit Court in early February after firing two of its reporters who allegedly removed the documents from the apartment of a murder suspect.
The court submitted the documents to a grand jury and ordered that tests be performed on the documents for fingerprints and other trace evidence that could be used to indict the reporters for criminal trespass, evidence tampering and other possible charges.
The grand jury is investigating the late January beating death of a Melbourne man at his home. Four suspects were arrested in connection with the homicide.
Three of the suspects resided at the same apartment. Florida TODAY reporter Kathy Reakes and columnist John McAleenan allegedly visited the apartment a few days after the suspects were arrested. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Reakes and McAleenan found the back door open, went inside and discovered some papers.
Within 24 hours, TODAY fired Reakes and McAleenan and advised them to obtain their own attorneys. The newspaper retained the documents and voluntarily turned over the papers to the circuit court in a sealed envelope, the Sentinel reported.
The court denied TODAY’s motion for a closed hearing, but granted a request by the newspaper and all of the defendants to keep the documents sealed.
The newspaper has refused to discuss the case or the firing of the reporters, citing a policy against speaking about personnel matters. But managing editor Melinda Meers told the Orlando Sentinel that “these documents may have been obtained in a manner not in accordance with [TODAY’s] standards.”
During the hearing in early February, Melbourne resident Hubert Siner told the court that he provided some papers to the reporters and that the documents in question may belong to him. Siner and an evidence technician who examined the documents testified before a closed grand jury hearing in mid-February. Reakes and McAleenan would not comment. (Florida v. Gonzales; Media Counsel: Richard Cowen, Melbourne)