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Church State Issues

Judge refuses to stop blocking access to Jodi Arias trial

Nov 1, 2014

Arizona Republic

Let's not let any silly First Amendment rights get in the way of Arizona sending Jodi Arias to the gas chamber!!!! At least that seems to be how Judge Sherry Stephens feels.


Judge refuses to stop blocking access to Jodi Arias trial

Michael Kiefer, The Republic | azcentral.com 9:36 p.m. MST October 31, 2014

What was arguably the nation's most public trial has moved further behind closed doors.

On Friday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens denied a motion by The Arizona Republic, 12 News and Meredith Corporation, which owns local TV stations Channels 3 and 5, to prevent her from blocking media access to testimony in the Jodi Arias trial.

The media outlets had asked "to stay closed portions of trial."

That means not locking out the press and public during any testimony while waiting for the Arizona Court of Appeals to rule on a special action, or expedited appeal, filed late Thursday after reporters were ousted from the courtroom.

Stephens said there was minimal harm to the rights of the public and the media because the testimony was video-recorded and transcribed for the court and will be available after the trial.

The denial of the motion was expected. But it was mostly a formality on the part of the media so that they could take the motion up to the Court of Appeals. That appeal was filed before the close of business Friday.

Under clauses of the U.S. and Arizona constitutions, trials are generally supposed to be conducted in public, and the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure also make it practically impossible to exclude the media.

In court Friday, media attorney David Bodney said that Stephens' ruling "would undo 34 years of constitutional precedence" and set a bad precedent for the future, in this trial and others, if the press can be so easily excluded.

Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi, however, felt that opening the hearings jeopardized Arias' right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment.

Bodney countered that the "irreparable damage" would not be to Arias, but to the public.

"Knowing how the court arrives at a death sentence is critical to the public," he said.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez did not support a stay, but he had no comment on whether opening the trial would have any negative impact on the case.

The trial resumes Monday.

Arias was convicted of first-degree murder in May 2013, after a tumultuous five-month trial that was live-streamed across the world — with viral results.

The victim, Travis Alexander, who counted Arias among his lovers, was stabbed, shot in the head and had his throat slit.

Grisly photographs of Alexander and salacious photos and audio recordings of their trysts beamed through cyberspace.

Witnesses and attorneys were harassed and threatened. Crowds gathered outside the courthouse, and groupies and media alike fought for seats inside Stephens' courtroom.

With the first jury unable to reach a unanimous decision and the prosecutor refusing to pull the death sentence off the table, a sentencing retrial began Oct. 21.

But Stephens, mostly at the request of Arias' attorneys, blocked the live-stream broadcast, forbade video to be aired before the trial's end, and limited cameras to one still photographer.

Leading up to October, many of the pretrial conferences — in which prosecutors and defense attorneys map out their strategy and the judge determines what will and won't be allowed at trial — were sealed from the media and public.

On Thursday, Stephens called the Superior Court public-information officer into her chambers. The officer then came out and told the press they had to leave and said the cameras had to be taken down.

Reporters from The Republic, 12 News and Channel 3 called for an attorney. Stephens held fast over a media attorney's objection because a witness would not testify otherwise. The hearing finding cause to seal the courtroom was also held in chambers, out of earshot of the press and public.

The media then filed a petition for special action in the Arizona Court of Appeals, asking that the day's transcript be unsealed and that the identity of the witness be revealed.