|News Media Update||CALIFORNIA||Secret Courts|
Tape of phone conversation unsealed in Bay Area triple homicide
- A California Superior Court judge granted a media request for access to a taped jailhouse phone call, despite protests that it would bias the jury pool.
Jan. 9, 2004 — A Superior Court judge in Oakland, Calif., made available to the media this week a taped jailhouse telephone call in which the defendant’s mother accused him of killing his brother. The records were released in response to a motion filed by ANG Newspapers, Inc., publisher of The Oakland Tribune.
Judge Vernon Nakahara had granted the request for access to the materials last month, but stayed his decision pending review by the state Supreme Court. The high court declined to review the case, so the stay was lifted on Jan. 7.
Defense lawyers had argued that the dramatic content of the phone call would prejudice the jury pool for the upcoming trial of Stuart Alexander, on unrelated murder charges. Alexander is accused of murdering three meat inspectors at a sausage factory he owned in San Leandro, Calif.
That argument was rejected by the judge. In December, the California Supreme Court denied a defense appeal of Nakahara’s order.
Nakahara did not issue a written opinion, but his decision “exemplifies just how difficult it is, especially during the pre-jury selection of a criminal trial, for a defendant to overcome the public’s constitutional right of access,” said Duffy Carolan, who argued the motion for ANG Newspapers.
“In large counties such as Alameda, that burden is nearly impossible,” Carolan said.
Alameda County has more than 1.47 million residents, according to a July 2002 U.S. census estimate. Nakahara held that it wouldn’t be impossible to find 12 unbiased jurors.
The recording of the phone conversation between Alexander and his mother was played in a closed courtroom in July 2003. As a result, the tape became part of the court record to which the public has a constitutional right of access, Nakahara said. He also ruled that all other content on the compact disc, submitted by the government at that hearing, are public under the California Rules of Court.
The taped call proved to be newsworthy, as it contained accusations by the defendant’s mother that he killed his own brother, Stanley, in order to obtain full control of the family’s sausage business. The content of the call was reported yesterday in The Oakland Tribune.
Alexander was speaking to his mother from prison, where calls are recorded as a matter of routine.
(California v. Stuart Alexander; Media Counsel: Duffy Carolan, Davis Wright & Tremaine, San Francisco) — JM
© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press