Judge denies motion to bar reporters from murder trial
A judge Thursday denied a motion by the defense and prosecution to have all media coverage banned from the third trial of a man charged with the 1991 slayings of nine people in a West Valley Buddhist temple.
“I’m not going to ban the media,” Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer said after hearing oral arguments on the motion. “That’s not going to happen.”
Kreamer also said he didn’t hear strong enough reasoning to ban cameras from the second retrial of Johnathan Doody. He ruled that one camera, with a journalist to monitor it, would be allowed in the courtroom behind glass on a 30-second delay.
“This case is of historical significance,” Kreamer said. “It is of public interest. I think that’s very important that they see it and they see what happens.”
Doody was convicted in 1993 of killing six monks, two acolytes and a nun who were shot to death in a Thai Buddhist temple in Waddell.
That conviction was overturned in 2010 on the grounds that Maricopa County sheriff’s detectives obtained an involuntary confession. The retrial ended last month in a hung jury, after which Kreamer granted a third trial.
In response to a motion by five Valley television stations to allow video coverage in the retrial, prosecutor Jason Kalish and defense attorney Maria Schaffer filed a joint motion to have all media coverage banned within the courtroom.
Chris Moeser, an attorney representing the television stations, argued in the initial motion that because the case involves nine victims, a controversial investigation and the overturning of Doody’s conviction, camera coverage serves a vital public interest.
Kalish and Schaffer argued that previous media coverage had affected the ability to conduct a fair and impartial trial. There was no reason for continued coverage because no new evidence would be presented, their motion said.
Their biggest worry involved an incident during the previous trial in which streaming video showing jurors wound up on YouTube.
“We don’t have any assurance that (the media) can handle that responsibility,” Kalish said. “What’s in place to prevent is essentially the exact same.”
The motion also cited a headline on azcentral.com that mentioned Doody’s previous conviction and a series of Arizona Republic articles about misconduct by prosecutors.
Kalish said a juror, potential or chosen, could be disqualified from the trial by simply passing a news ticker in downtown Phoenix on his or her drive home from the courthouse.
“Even if jurors try to avoid it, they can’t,” he said.
Kreamer said the news ticker would be the same regardless of whether a camera was present in the courtroom.
“How does that change what the headline’s going to be?” Kreamer said.
Moeser said that the concerns related to a journalist’s interpretation of the case make sense, but he said restricting camera access would only limit the public’s direct connection to what happens in the courtroom.
Additionally, everyone behaves better when they know they’re being watched, he said.
“It really is the best way for the public to learn directly how the judicial system works,” Moeser said.
Joseph Russomanno, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said a court issuing a blanket order banning all journalists would have been an unprecedented move.
“When justice happens behind closed doors, it doesn’t happen,” Russomanno said.
There are other methods, including sequestering a jury, that a judge could take to balance the First Amendment’s right to free speech and the Sixth Amendment’s right to a fair trial, he said.
“The notion that the news media should be (or) would be asked or required to modify how they would cover this to me smacks of violation of their First Amendment rights,” Russomanno said.