Tifton -- A Tift County judge will modify his order to ban all media from the courtroom of a capital murder case in Tifton.
Chief Judge Gary McCorvey approved a defense motion June first to bar all media from pre-trial hearings for Jamie Underwood. Underwood is charged with six counts of murder in the deaths of six Hispanic men. Four others were hurt in a string of attacks in September 2005.
Media Attorneys today challenged the judge's decision to bar reporters and the public from the courtroom. WALB also asked that video cameras be allowed in the case.
It's been 21 months since six Hispanic men were killed in three Tifton mobile home parks. Court hearings for Jamie Underwood, one of six charged with the crime, have been delayed to down play pretrial publicity. Earlier this month Chief Judge Gary McCorvey at the request of the defense and supported by prosecutors banned all media from pretrial hearings.
Monday at the request of WALB, the associated press, the Tifton Gazette, and the Moultrie Observer, Judge McCorvey attempted to balance first amendment rights against the sixth amendment. Gregory1 "He's trying to balance fairness for those defendants rights under their constitutional right to a fair trial, but he has to balance that with the equal constitutional right of the public's access to proceedings as well as the media's First Amendment right to be there to cover the," said William Gregory II, WALB Attorney.
"The judge is concerned however that there might be information that comes up in a pretrial proceeding that would be inadmissible later at the trial, and he's struggling with what he might do in an order to protect the jury pool from receiving information that would not be admissible at the trial itself," said David Hudson, Tifton Gazette Attorney.
Judge McCorvey mentioned possibly banning media from portions of a pretrial hearings, but not all of them. "He might make a request that certain information not be published or broadcast until the trial begins and allow the press and the broadcasters to use their good judgement as citizens not to do something that might taint the jury pool," said Hudson.
Judge McCorvey said he's also trying to save taxpayers the expense of changing venues or bringing in a jury from another county. "When the first trial takes place if there's evidence in that first trial that cast negatively on other defendants that's just the way it is. When that jury is selected in that second trial they'll have to be carefully questioned about whether or not they can keep an open mind," said Hudson.
While media attorneys argue that it's these important capital cases where the public has the right to be informed, the judge will have to balance that with the possibility that after Underwood's trial there could be five more trials with other defendants all about the same crime. Judge McCorvey said he would issue written orders explaining his decisions by the end of the week.
He's expected to rule on three matters-- the limits of the gag order, the request to keep the proceedings open the public and the media, and the request to videotape the proceedings.
Underwood's death penalty trial is scheduled to begin in August.