Reporter’s appeal of order to testify ruled moot
VIRGINIA–A Roanoke reporter lost her appeal of an order to testify in a murder trial in mid-April, when the state Supreme Court refused to reconsider the February decision of a unanimous four-judge panel that the appeal was moot because the reporter had already testified.
The panel decided that Roanoke Times reporter Diane Struzzi could not appeal the court’s order that she comply with the prosecutor’s subpoena because she had already testified and thus the issue was moot.
Struzzi reported on the investigation of the July 1994 murders of Blaine and Teresa Hodges and their children, Winter and Anah. In October 1997 prosecutors in the trial of Hodges family friend Earl Bramblett subpoenaed Struzzi, demanding that she testify about an August 1996 interview with Bramblett, which quoted him as saying that he knew something happened to Teresa “because a Hodges relative had told him that gasoline had been sprinkled around her body.” They contended that only the person who had actually committed the crimes would have known at the time of the August 1996 interview that Teresa Hodges’ body was the only one of the four that had been doused with gasoline.
Based on the prosecutor’s claim that Struzzi’s testimony was important to their case because it showed that Bramblett knew more than the general public about the crime, the court denied the reporter’s motion to quash the subpoena and ordered her to testify.
After the judge issued his order, Struzzi re-read the newspaper’s articles on the investigation and discovered that because of a September 1994 article reporting the presence of gasoline on Teresa’s body, the facts that “only the killer would know” were public knowledge well before the August 1996 interview, contrary to the prosecution’s claim.
Struzzi asked the court to reconsider its decision in light of the new information, but the judge rejected her request.
She appealed, and the state appellate court in Richmond denied her appeal. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court held that Struzzi could not appeal because she had not yet been forced to take the stand and answer questions.
After testifying, Struzzi appealed to the state Supreme Court in Richmond. In February a four judge panel of the court unanimously held that, because Struzzi had already testified, the question of whether or not she could be forced to take the stand had been rendered moot. In mid-April, the court refused to rehear the case. (In re Struzzi; Media Counsel: Stan Barnhill, Roanoke)