Two Massachusetts reporters are seeking to protect the identity of confidential sources after asking a judge to quash subpoenas seeking their testimony in a murder case.
John Entwistle, charged with killing his wife and daughter, subpoenaed the two reporters, Michele McPhee and Laurel Sweet, to determine how they obtained a letter written by Entwistle to his lawyers.
McPhee and Sweet have claimed that two separate confidential sources provided them the information. The two co-wrote a story that included information from the letter in a story printed in the Boston Herald last November. Entwistle’s attorneys have hinted that they believe the prosecution may have had its hand in turning over the document.
It is precisely these situations that should give judges the greatest pause when considering subpoenas on the media. Without the ability to protect confidential sources, news plugs up at its source, leaving the public thirsting for important information.
Judge Diane Kottmyer has an opportunity here to send a strong message to criminal defense attorneys. Issues that are purely tangential to even capital cases should not serve as a vehicle for weakening the essential bond between reporters and their confidential sources.
Surely, defendants in capital cases have a claim that they ought to have access to as much exculpatory evidence as possible, but such an argument cannot be made here. The letter at issue was written after Entwistle allegedly committed his crimes and has little or no bearing on the central facts in the case.