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Sniper suspect's trial will not be televised

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    NMU         VIRGINIA         Broadcasting         Dec 12, 2002    

Sniper suspect’s trial will not be televised

  • Claiming cameras would disrupt the courtroom, a Prince William County Circuit Judge denied a motion by several media outlets to televise the trial of John Allen Muhammed.

Prince William, Va., County Circuit Judge LeRoy Millette Jr. Dec. 12 denied a request by several media organizations to televise the trial of John Allen Muhammed, 41, who, along with John Lee Malvo, is charged with the Washington, D.C. area shooting spree that ended with the suspects’ arrest Oct. 24.

Twelve broadcast companies, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, the Virginia Association of Broadcasters, and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press petitioned the court to televise Muhammed’s trial.

In their petition, the media groups argued that televising the trial would allow those affected by it to see the proceedings.

“These events touched not only the lives of citizens in the D.C. metropolitan area, but also persons throughout the nation, including those directly affected in Alabama, Louisiana, and Washington State,” they wrote in their motion. “There is a significant need for recording and telecast of these proceedings, because the physical confines of the courtroom and the importance of preserving order and decorum in the courtroom necessarily limit attendance.”

But Millette disagreed, ruling that the presence of electronic coverage of the events could intimidate witnesses, affect testimony, cause counsel to behave differently, and make it very difficult for jurors to follow the court’s instructions, according to Kathleen Kirby, an attorney representing the media coalition.

In a statement, RTNDA president Barbara Cochran expressed her disappointment with the decision: “Citizens in the Washington area felt personally affected by the sniper case and deserve to see for themselves how justice is served.”

Millette also set a trial date of Oct. 14, 2003, for Muhammed.

(Virginia v. Muhammad; Media Counsel: Barbara Van Gelder, Kathleen Kirby, Wiley, Rein & Fielding LLP, Washington, D.C.) JL

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