ST. LOUIS (CN) - St. Louis city prosecutors want church members barred from the sentencing of an armed robber.
Cornell McKay, 22, was charged in August 2012 with the armed robbery of a woman.
A group from the First Baptist Church, in Villa Ridge, Mo., has supported McKay and claims the real robber is Keith Esthers, who was convicted of the high-profile killing of Megan Boken eight days later in a similar crime.
Esthers was found with the cellphone taken from McKay, but that evidence was not allowed into McKay's trial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The city's original motion asks Circuit Judge Robin Vannoy to exclude "anyone other than the defendant's immediate family from the courthouse property on the day" of McKay's Feb. 6 sentencing.
(In an amended motion, the city asked to bar only supporters, but not family members, of the defendant - and not the press. Unless otherwise noted, "the motion" in this article refers to the city's first motion.)
The city claims that few of McKay's supporters are biological family, questions the amount of contact McKay actually had with those supporters and claims that his supporters improperly yelled to McKay that they loved him as he was escorted away after the verdict.
The motion mentions an exchange between supporters and the victim's husband, in which supporters implored the husband to have his wife take another look at the photos of McKay and Esther and asked him: "How will you sleep tonight?"
"There are alternative methods for them to show their support for the defendant and to present any statement they might have to the court," Assistant Circuit Attorney Christine Krug wrote. "Unlike the victim of the crime, they do not have a constitutionally and statutorily protected right to be present in the courtroom. The victim deserves to be heard without further assault in any fashion."
The motion also questioned coverage of the case in the Post-Dispatch, stating that reporter Jennifer Mann posted an article about the trial "despite having not been observed to be present in the courtroom for the trial or verdicts."
Mann has called the mention that she was not present "incorrect" in articles on the case.
The motion mentioned comments made by McKay's supporters on Post-Dispatch message boards as further reasons for not allowing them into the sentencing.
"The State has no interest in restricting anyone's lawful right to free speech," the motion states.
"The State does, however, have a very serious concern that the people who were in the courtroom for the trial, who verbally assaulted a State's witness and who posted such comments despite very little actual knowledge of, or relationship with, the defendant would not be respectful to this Court or to the victim who has an absolute right to be present at the sentencing."
Mann wrote in the Post-Dispatch: "After the reporter asked prosecutors for comment, Krug called to warn that as a witness to the elevator exchange, the reporter might be called to testify on the motion to close the court and probably should not cover it. Krug would not comment on the case. A subpoena arrived shortly later."
The prosecutor's office, through spokeswoman Geri Dreiling, declined to comment to the Post-Dispatch on the motion, saying it "speaks for itself."
Courthouse News learned of the amended motion at 7:38 a.m. today (Friday). To be clear, the city is not trying to exclude the press from the sentencing hearing.
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