(CN) - A reporter covering a murder case should not have been stripped of his First Amendment privilege for failing to reveal his sources, an Illinois appeals court ruled.
Bethany McKee and three other defendants were charged with six counts of first-degree murder in the alleged strangling deaths of two male victims.
Joseph Hosey wrote about the case for the Joliet Patch website, and his articles contained alleged details of the murders.
McKee's counsel filed a motion to divest Hosey of his reporter's privilege to discover the source and materials he used to write the articles.
McKee also argued that she could not receive a fair trial, and accused Hosey of getting the toxicology report from the victims' autopsies without filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the Joliet clerk's office.
After hundreds of affidavits were filed from officials claiming not to be the source of the leak, the circuit court divested Hosey of his reporter's privilege.
"The court can envision instances where significant income can result from obtaining information and using that information to author articles, books, plays, screenplays, in order to profit from exclusively obtained information," the court stated.
Hosey was found in civil and criminal contempt for failing to reveal his sources. He was fined $1,000, plus $300 for each additional day of non-compliance. After 180 days, Hosey was to be jailed.
He appealed, and the Third District Illinois Court of Appeals overturned the contempt and divestiture rulings against him.
"Because the identity of Hosey's source cannot be relevant to a fact of consequence to the first-degree murder allegations, we hold that the circuit court erred when it granted the motion for divestiture," Justice Robert L. Carter wrote on behalf of a three-justice panel.
For the same reason, Carter stated that the contempt findings against Hosey should be vacated.
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