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TV station fails to overcome death-row interview ban

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    NMU         ALABAMA         Newsgathering         Apr 30, 2002    

TV station fails to overcome death-row interview ban

  • Judge upheld Alabama prison official’s prohibition against media contacts with a female inmate, saying the policy was related to security not content.

A judge last week denied a Montgomery, Ala., television station’s request to interview a death-row inmate who might become the first woman to die in Alabama’s electric chair.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price on April 24 declined to remove a ban on media contact with such inmates.

WSFA/Channel 12 filed suit in Montgomery County Court, asking Price to allow one of its reporters to speak to Lynda Lyon Block, a woman scheduled to die on May 10 for the murder of a police officer in 1993. The station claimed the First Amendment forbids bans such as the one imposed by Prison Commissioner Mike Haley.

Station officials have not decided whether to appeal the decision.

Block and her common-law husband, George Sibley, were convicted on capital murder charges in the shooting death of Roger Motley, a police office in Opelika, in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Sibley also sits on death row but his execution date has not been scheduled.

Sibley and Block claimed self-defense in the shooting and stated that police and courts do not have legal power over them.

In halting death-row interviews, Haley had issued a memo saying he didn’t wish “to publicize this heinous crime and in so doing bring any recognition to Ms. Block.”

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price heard arguments in the case on April 19 and agreed with prison officials that an interview with Block would cause security problems.

“There are a legion of cases that hold, as this court does, that Commissioner Haley’s decision to deny the stated interview is not a denial of plaintiff’s right of freedom of speech,” Price wrote in his decision. “This court finds that the denial is based on security and control reasons and not content-related.”

(WSFA v. Dep’t of Corrections) PT

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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