Reporter ordered to jail for not revealing source of psychiatric records
SOUTH CAROLINA–In late May, the judge in the Susan Smith murder trial ordered a reporter to jail after she would not reveal a confidential source to the court.
Union County Circuit Judge William Howard placed Twila Decker, a reporter for The (Columbia) State, in contempt of court after she refused to reveal who told her that state psychiatrists found Susan Smith sane and competent to stand trial, according to the Associated Press. Decker was not actually incarcerated, because the judge’s order was stayed pending appeal, reported AP.
After Judge Howard sealed a report by the state Mental Health Department, Decker reported in a news story that the doctors concluded that Smith was sane. During a hearing concerning media requests to unseal the report, Howard placed Decker on the stand and asked her how she obtained her information. Decker refused to answer the judge’s question, asserting a reporter’s privilege under the South Carolina shield law and the U.S. Constitution, according to AP.
Howard’s incarceration order was the first against the media since South Carolina enacted its shield law in 1993.
AP reported that Howard ordered the hearing after The State and The Greenville News asked him to release the mental health reports. During the hearing, Smith’s lawyers complained that leaks to the news media were harming Smith’s chances for a fair trial, according to AP.
Smith is charged with the murder of her two sons Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months. (South Carolina v. Smith; Media Counsel: Jay Bender, Columbia)