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Reporter testifies after judge rules privilege does not apply

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Reporter testifies after judge rules privilege does not apply 06/30/97 INDIANA--In mid-June, a judge required reporter Kathleen Merrill of The…

Reporter testifies after judge rules privilege does not apply

06/30/97

INDIANA–In mid-June, a judge required reporter Kathleen Merrill of The Evansville Press to testify during the sentencing portion of a triple-murder case about her interviews with a police detective, finding that the qualified privilege created by Indiana’s shield law did not apply to her because her source’s identity was already known.

Merrill’s testimony indicated that the defendant, John Stephenson, was not solely responsible for the murders. Merrill testified about her May interviews with Indiana State Police Sgt. Marvin Heilman, which followed Stephenson’s conviction. She quoted him as saying that the conviction ended his investigation of the case, in spite of his knowledge that defense testimony during the trial indicated others might have been involved in the murders. Stephenson was sentenced to death the day after Merrill testified.

The prosecution also sought all notes and tapes of post- conviction jailhouse interviews with Stephenson, but Merrill testified that any notes or tapes had been destroyed.

The judge agreed with the prosecution’s argument that Indiana’s reporters privilege did not apply in this situation because the identity of Merrill’s source, Heilman, was known. The judge found that the Indiana shield law only protected the identity of a confidential source. (Indiana v. Stephenson; Media Counsel: Pat Shoulders, Evansville)