Judge Tightens Reins In Church Shooting Trial

     (CN) – A federal judge in Charleston, S.C. on Tuesday ordered attorneys in the upcoming death penalty trial of accused church shooting gunman Dylann Roof to redact or file under seal any documents related to previously sealed evidence in the case.
     U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel’s order comes on the heels of an attorney representing The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston objecting to the judge’s plan to close a Sept. 1 hearing in which Roof’s defense will argue against the inclusion of certain evidence in his federal trial.
     Gergel hasn’t formally closed the hearing to the press yet, but has suggested he plans to do so.
     Attorney Jay Bender, representing the newspaper, has asked to be heard before the judge makes a final decision on the matter.
     In an August 19 letter to Gergel, Bender argues that closing the hearing is “inconsistent with established First Amendment precedent,” that there are reasonable alternatives to closing the hearing, and that if judge ultimately decides to close the hearing anyway, his reasons should be clearly spelled out on the record.
     The judge doesn’t specifically reference Bender’s request or the First Amendment issues he raised in Tuesday’s order, but single-page document does suggest he plans to keep a tight rein on all aspects of the case.
     “This Court, and counsel for the parties as officers of the Court, have the affirmative duty to ‘minimize the effects of prejudicial pretrial publicity’ and to protect defendant’s right to a fair and impartial jury,” Gergel writes.
     He acknowledges that a careful balance must be struck between the constitutional right of the public and press to “free access to judicial documents and proceedings,” but says that it is “essential that this court and not the parties determine when to disclose publically evidence that is sealed or subject to a sealed motion to suppress.”
     Roof, 22, is charged in the June 2015 deaths of nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church. He also faces a possible death sentence if convicted of murder charges in state court.

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